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Minnesota women ponder Palin and politics

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As a faithful Republican, Kathy Goldsworthy was glued to the news the morning John McCain announced he'd picked Sarah Palin.

"You know, things were flying around as to who was, who wasn't his pick," she said. "And at first I was a little bit disappointed, because I was a Mitt Romney supporter and liked what he would bring to the ticket. And then saw her come on stage and went, 'Wow! This a woman who I really, really feel good about.'"

"I was so excited when I heard her name, but I think our story maybe diverges from there," said Mary Karlsson. "I still admire her as a person. I still admire her as a leader. I still admire her for her accomplishments. But I've just come to really understand that on the political spectrum, I'm at a very different place than she is."

Kathy Goldsworthy
Kathy Goldsworthy of Lakeville has seven grandchildren. She was a stay-at-home mom and she volunteers for the GOP. At first she was disappointed McCain didn't pick Mitt Romney as his running mate, but she's been impressed with Palin. She empathizes with her as a mother.
MPR Photo/Curtis Gilbert

It didn't take long for Karlsson, a Democrat, to give up on the idea of supporting Palin.

"About 15 seconds," she said.

Karlsson and Goldsworthy are two of six women Minnesota Public Radio News invited to talk about Palin. 

There were three Democrats and three Republicans. They ranged in age from their twenties to their sixties, and they're all mothers. And while it's hard to avoid politics when you're talking about a politician, that wasn't the focus. The conversation centered on how Palin has gotten them thinking about their own lives.

Mary Karlsson
Mary Karlsson, a civil engineer from Roseville, briefly considered voting for Palin because she's a woman but then realized that she disagrees with her on nearly every issue.
MPR Photo/Curtis Gilbert

Jane Niemeyer lives in St. Paul, and she's unemployed right now.

"I've got a two-year-old at home and a very nice husband, also at home, and I just try to take care of them and look for work as best I can," she said.

Niemeyer used to work in politics. And she covered the 2000 presidential election as a producer for CBS TV. She knows the toll campaigns can take on a family, and that's why it bothers her to see men or women with young children running for national office.

"And I look at Sarah Palin and what she's done, which is have five kids, including one that is very, very young, and I think if you don't have time to spend with kids, don't have them," she said.

"Jane, when you were saying what you were saying, I really could start crying," said Valerie Broughton, who owns a college counseling company in Minneapolis. 

"I think if you don't have time to spend with kids, don't have them."

She remembered earlier in her career fighting to crack the glass ceiling in higher education.

"I mean, there weren't any women deans," she said. "There weren't any women vice chancellors. There weren't women presidents."

Broughton is a Republican. She's supporting McCain and Palin, and she's one of the only participants who embraces the label "feminist."

"And so now that there's a perspective that if you're a woman and you have children, you shouldn't have any other choices after that, it does sort of break my heart," she said.

Kathy Goldsworthy wouldn't call herself a feminist, but she said the focus on Palin family proves she's the victim of sexism.

"Has anybody brought up the point that Barack Obama has two little children?" she asked. "That's not brought up, but it's brought up: Can Sarah Palin have her children?"

And Jane Niemeyer clarified that she thinks anyone with young kids should think twice about seeking the presidency.

Michele Moylan
Michele Moylan, a college professor from St. Paul, thinks it's unfair for the media to question if Palin can raise her kids and be vice president, but not to question Obama about the same thing. That said, she is a Democrat supporting Obama and she says Palin's lack of national experience scares her.
MPR Photo/Curtis Gilbert

"I'm actually fairly disappointed that Barack Obama isn't waiting until he has a little bit more experience and that his kids are older," she said.

Republican Kristin Shadis also questioned how Palin could balance her work and her family, but said she's confident Palin is up to the job.

"I think that being a parent only qualifies you more, because you're thinking about the future of your own children, and I know that as I've had my own children, my tenacity for seeing the right things happen in this country has only multiplied," she said.

Whether they liked her or not -- and there were strong feelings on both sides -- all the women agreed that Palin's candidacy represents a step forward for women in politics. 

Valerie Broughton
Valerie Broughton is a small business owner in Minneapolis. She's a Republican supporting McCain, and she says Palin makes her think about her own choices in her career and family.
MPR Photo/Curtis Gilbert

And Democrat Michele Moylan pointed out that Hillary Clinton's candidacy earlier this year may have even helped temper the sexism Palin may face.

"My husband said about this election Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were in it: What a wonderful thing. All of this stuff is going to come out because it's the first time, and then we won't have to do it anymore," she said.

And many of them said they hope to see the day when gender won't play such a big role in American politics.