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A woman U.S. president? Mock ballot offers choice

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Geralyn White Dreyfous says it's inevitable. Someday a woman will be elected president of the United States. She'd just like to see it happen soon - say, within the next 10 years.

Dreyfous, of Salt Lake City, is on the national executive board of The White House Project. The purpose of the project is to get Americans talking about a woman for president - and to see one elected within the decade.Dreyfous decided to start the discussion, recently, with her 11-year-old stepdaughter. Dreyfous longs for a day when girls can dream as big as boys. She was sad to hear this girl tell her, "Politics is a man's world. Men would never vote for a woman."

Well, actually, Dreyfous explained, men and women both will have a chance this fall to see what it feels like to vote for a woman for president. The first project of The White House Project is a pretend ballot.

A ballot full of women's names is being distributed throughout the country just so voters can get used to the idea.

The 20 women whose names are on the ballot had to get used to the idea, too. Some were honored to be included. Others said, "Whoa, whoa, I don't want to run for president."

"You talk them through it," says Dreyfous. You explain that no one asked to have her name on the ballot. That they were chosen by political think tank types. That women who are actually running for office right now were not even considered for the ballot.

You explain this is a bipartisan effort to show the public there are capable women out there. The goal of the project is not to see any one of them elected, necessarily. The goal of the project is to say "Let's start talking seriously about a woman as president. Let's see if the political parties catch on. Maybe they'll both come up with a woman vice president on the next ticket."

Before moving to Utah four years ago, Dreyfous lived in Boston and worked as a philanthropic consultant, helping put businesses in touch with the community groups that need their support. She met a lot of people who run charities and foundations, including Marie Wilson, who runs the Ms. Foundation, the foundation that started Take Our Daughters to Work Day.

After moving to Salt Lake, Dreyfous continued to consult, long distance. A year ago she was sitting with Wilson in a meeting when Wilson confided her latest brainstorm.

Of course Dreyfous wanted to help, she says. "This is about changing the face of American politics." In a time when most Americans are cynical about the system, she saw a chance to be part of something pure, bipartisan, serious and yet entirely playful.

Dreyfous, Wilson and the other organizers began with surveys and focus groups to see if anyone shared their dream. The majority of voters said, "Sure I'd vote for a woman, but I don't think any one else would." It was a tepid response, said Dreyfous. They wanted voters to say, "Absolutely! High time! Other countries have women in charge! We can't call ourselves a democracy until any citizen can be president!"

Another tepid response: The focus groups could only come up with three possible candidates: Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey and Elizabeth Dole.

The Project directors went with Clinton and Dole and came up with 18 others for their ballot, including Judith Rodin, 54, president of the University of Pennsylvania; Dianne Feinstein, 65, U.S. senator from California; Mae Jemison, 41, physician, engineer, Dartmouth professor, former astronaut; Ann Fudge, 47, president of Maxwell House; Linda Chavez-Thompson, 54, vice president of the AFL-CIO; Claudia Kennedy, 51, three-star general and U.S. Army deputy chief of staff for intelligence.

Next, organizers selected 12 target states where a million ballots will be distributed. But Utahns will have a chance to vote, too, Drey-fous explains. There was a ballot in Parade Magazine and there will be ballots in upcoming issues of Glamour, Jane, Essence, Latina and People. Voters can also find a ballot on the Project Web site: (www.thewhitehouseproject.org).

Ballots must be cast by Nov. 15. Five winners will be announced in January. None of them will have actually won anything, of course. But the American people will be the eventual winners, says Dreyfous.

The polls show that Americans think a woman could bring a fresh perspective to the White House, more empathy, practicality and an understanding of the cost of groceries. (No one is saying a woman would be morally superior, Drey-fous hurries to point out.)

But when it comes right down to it, are voters ready to choose what are perceived as feminine traits over the perceived masculine traits of toughness and decisiveness? Dreyfous wonders. Maybe if they talk about it, think about it and pretend-vote about it, they'll be more daring.

Meanwhile, Dreyfous has started the dialogue in Utah. Recently she held a lunch and told friends and neighbors to invite other women. Ninety Democrats and Republicans showed up.

Anne Milliken was one of the first in Salt Lake to offer Dreyfous her support. Milliken doesn't know if they'll be successful at hurrying history or not, she says. But she is going to have the White House Project logo put on her new skis. So this winter, when she's riding the lift with strangers, she'll have lots of chances to start the discussion.

Milliken has four daughters. She asks: Why shouldn't they have all the opportunities that boys have, including a run for the White House?