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Literary Scene: Penn State LV professor writes ‘what if’ book

The United States came very close to having a woman president.

A new book, “Electing Madam Vice President: When Women Run Women Win,” by Nichola D. Gutgold (156 pp. $67.25, print; $45 digital, Lexington Books, 2021), shows how it might happen very soon.

Gutgold is a Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences at Penn State Lehigh Valley.

The book, part of the “Communicating Gender” series, has a foreword by Loretta T. Avent and an afterword by Congresswoman Susan Wild (D-7th).

The book describes the campaigns of the six women who ran for president in the 2020 Democratic primary, the first time so many women ran for the office. Gutgold believes that their races opened possibilities, and allowed voters to adapt to the idea of a woman holding the nation’s highest office.

“I do believe we will have a woman president in my lifetime,” says Gutgold in a phone interview from her home in Allentown. “I am an optimist. And I think it will be through the office of the vice presidency.”

“In the past if a woman ran for president, the idea would be that she really wants to be vice president,” Gutgold speculates.

Previous campaigns were often considered symbolic. Gutgold feels that Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful 2016 presidential bid was historic for its scope and its near success.

The attempts of each of the six women 2020 candidates are analyzed in individual chapters, explaining their strengths and weaknesses. Each has varied prospects for the 2024 election. The most likely to run is Kamala Harris, the first female vice president of the United States.

“She has proven that she won’t implode on the national stage. She has a lot of practice in handling herself. It makes her a more polished candidate,” Gutgold observes.

Gutgold feels that her book preserves a record of candidates who are less likely to mount another presidential bid: “People forget about women, and people are often forgotten right away if they are not in the public eye.”

She cites the example of Marianne Williamson, who had never held public office and whose views were held by some to be too New Age.

“She talked about love, peace, our place in history, and making the world a better place,” Gutgold says.

There were similarities with Williamson’s campaign and that of Robert Kennedy, hearkening back to the more optimistic time of the 1960s, says Gutgold.

According to “Electing Madam Vice President,” attitudes are improving for women candidates, but they still face difficulties.

“There are still old- fashioned notions and hidden bias. And there is the likability factor. Men tend to be more likable,” says Guthold.

“Women, unlike men, are judged by their roles as mother,” she says. If a woman has young children, voters might wonder who is taking care of them, while ignoring that factor for men with large families, Gutgold reasons.

Gutgold, who grew up near Hazelton and raised her two children in New Tripoli, Lynn Township, has always been attracted to the Lehigh Valley as a place to live. She is author of six non-fiction books, one fiction book, two children’s books, and coauthor of two non-fiction books and two children’s books.

Her 2012 book “The Rhetoric of Supreme Court Women” was for sale in the Supreme Court bookstore for several years after its publication. Gutgold interviewed three of the Supreme Court justices who are women.

“It is a lot of fun and I learn a lot,” she says of her prodigious output.

She hopes to inspire others with her books and her teaching.

“I like to think of myself as a mentor more than a teacher.”

She said during an interview by Katie Couric of “CBS Evening News,” a woman said that one of Gutgold’s books inspired her to become a journalist.

Gutgold sees resolve in her female students: “Women now know what they want.”

“Literary Scene” is a column about authors, books and publishing. To request coverage, email: Paul Willistein, Focus editor, pwillistein@tnonline.com

Nichola D. Gutgold