At the top of the ticket, Republican Elizabeth Dole is the first woman to be regarded as a serious contender for her party's nomination. If she doesn't make it, whoever does, in the view of many GOP leaders, will have to at least give consideration to naming her as his running mate.
And if not her, some other woman, like New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman, could serve as balm for the Republican's chronic gender gap.
Such a move by the GOP would only increase pressure on the Democrats to pick a woman for vice president. Veteran Sen. Diane Feinstein is always mentioned first. Jean Shaheen, the governor of New Hampshire, where the primary season begins, is another favorite of professionals.
In the Senate, women now hold an historic high nine seats, and handicappers give them a chance at picking up five more next year.
As women have moved up the ladder in other professions, voters of both genders have come to accept them as candidates. And many issues, according to one activist, are tailor-made for them: "Education for sure, social security, how we take care of young and old, children, violence," says Marie Wilson, of the White House Project
First ladies, even when they were politically astute like Eleanor Roosevelt, or assertive and single-minded, like Nancy Reagan, have generally assumed the pose of passive help-mates, devoid of personal ambition.
They were responding to the public's expectations of how a couple should act. As more Americans became accustomed to the two-income family and the professional woman, the role of the first lady has expanded. And so have her career opportunities.