The final pair of foreign-born American politicians who would have been strong contenders for the presidency are notable in that they are in modern politics, and that they are both women. The first is former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Albright was born Marie Jana Korbel in Prague in Czechoslovakia in 1937. Her father, Josef Korbel, was a prominent Czech diplomat, who at the time of Albright’s birth was serving in the embassy in Yugoslavia. In 1938, when the Munich Agreement was signed and Czechoslovakia was partitioned by Germany, Korbel moved the family to London where he worked with the Czech government in exile during World War II. After the war, they moved back to Prague and again Belgrade as Albright’s father was appointed ambassador to Yugoslavia. Albright was educated in Switzerland for three years during this time where she learned to speak French and changed her name to Madeleine, before the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1948 again forced the family to flee, this time to the United States.
Albright spent much of her adolescence in Denver, Colorado, where her father had obtained a position in the political science department at the University of Denver. Albright earned her Bachelors degree in political science before returning to Denver. While interning at the Denver Post, Albright met her future husband, Joseph Medill Albright. They married in 1959 and by 1962 had moved to Washington, D.C. Madeleine Albright received her Masters degree from Johns Hopkins and a doctorate from Columbia. She had always retained an interest in Czechoslovakia, with her doctoral dissertation being on the role of journalists in the 1968 Prague Spring.
Madeleine Albright continued living in Washington while attending Columbia, and after receiving her doctorate in 1975 she began her political and diplomatic career. Albright was the chief legislative assistant for Maine Senator Edmund Muskie’s 1976 presidential campaign. After Carter defeated Muskie for the Democratic presidential nomination and won the presidency, Albright worked under Zbigniew Brzezinski as the congressional liaison for the National Security Council. After Carter’s defeat in 1980, Albright studies and wrote on the growing Solidarity Movement in Poland, traveling to the country over the next two years.
In 1982 after returning to the United States, Albright’s husband divorced her. During the 1980s, she continued advancing her political career as a major foreign policy advisor for the 1984 and 1988 Democratic presidential campaigns. Once Bill Clinton was elected and the White House returned to the Democratic Party, Albright was in a strong position of influence with the new administration. In January of 1993, the incoming Clinton administration appointed her Ambassador to the United Nations. In 1997, Clinton appointed Albright as the first female Secretary of State. Albright shaped United States foreign policy for the next four years. In 1998 and 1999, Albright was instrumental in advocating the United States’ role in intervening in Kosovo and Bosnia in order to not repeat the mistake she felt as Ambassador to the UN during the Rwanda genocide.
Since the end of her time as Secretary of State in January 2001, Albright has continued to speak out on United States foreign policy and has not shied away from politics. In fact, in 2002 Czech president Vaclav Havel said he would be honored to have Albright run as his successor as president of the Czech Republic, though Albright went on record saying she never seriously considered such an action. However, were Albright eligible, she might have considered running for the United States presidency as it would give her a far greater role in shaping American influence around the world. The biggest obstacle to an Albright presidency would probably be her age. By the end of her term as Secretary of State in 2001, she was already 63 years of age. If she ran for president in 2004, she would already be 67 by the time of her inauguration. Only two presidents – Ronald Reagan and William Henry Harrison – have been older at the time of their inaugurations. Given her role in past campaigns, it is possible that Albright could run before 2004, but her prominence in foreign affairs would not be nearly what it was after she was Secretary of State and it is unlikely she would be viable for the nomination.
The other foreign-born female politician who might have a shot at the presidency if she were eligible is probably the least well known of the people from the past 80 years that I have mentioned. However, she is also the most recent of the politicians on this list. Jennifer Granholm is the former Democratic governor of Michigan, holding that office from 2003 to 2011. Granholm was born in Vancouver, Canada to descendants of Scandinavian immigrants in 1959. Granholm’s family moved to southern California when she was four years old, and she primarily grew up in the Los Angeles area.
When she was young, Granholm attempted to pursue an acting career in Hollywood before abandoning it and working as a tour guide at Los Angeles area theme parks. In 1980 at the age of 21, Jennifer Granholm became a naturalized United States citizen and worked for John Anderson’s independent campaign for President. She enrolled in UC Berkeley from which she graduated in 1984, and then earned a juris doctorate with honors from Harvard Law School. While at Harvard, Granholm was editor in chief of the Harvard Civil Rights Law Review. Granholm then clerked at the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals before becoming an assistant US attorney in 1990.
Jennifer Granholm’s first stint in an elected office marked her transition from law to politics in 1998. Granholm was elected as Michigan’s Attorney General that year, defeating Republican John Smietanka. Four years later, Granholm ran for governor of Michigan against the Republican nominee, then lieutenant governor Dick Posthumus. With Granholm’s election, she became Michigan’s first female governor and only the second Democratic governor of the state since 1963. She was the state’s third non-natural born citizen to be elected governor of Michigan.
Granholm’s gubernatorial administration was marked by battles with the predominantly Republican legislature over how to cut the state’s budget. Granholm was resistant to efforts to cut social services, instead proposing education reform. Granholm also launched initiatives to encourage the diversification of Michigan’s economy away from the declining number of manufacturing jobs in the state. Despite early success at curtailing the state deficit, Granholm’s efforts came to a head in 2007 when a refusal by the Republican legislature to consider her proposed budget resulted in a four hour shutdown of the state. The passed budget ultimately cut services while increasing the state’s income tax. The tax increase and economic uncertainty resulting from the budget crisis led to a drop in Granholm’s approval ratings. Governor Granholm was term limited in 2010 and unable to run for reelection, but Republican Rick Snyder defeated Democratic mayor of Lansing Virgil Bernero.
After her gubernatorial career, there was speculation that Jennifer Granholm would be appointed to the Obama administration in some capacity. She was on a shortlist for the Supreme Court nomination that ultimately went to Sonia Sotomayor, and when Obama was elected in 2008 there was speculation that she would be appointed Attorney General. Instead, Granholm moved back to California and became a political science professor at UC Berkeley. In 2014 with the resignation of Eric Holder as Attorney General, there is once again speculation that Granholm will be appointed to the post.
Were Granholm eligible, she would have been a strong candidate for the 2008 Democratic nomination. She had the executive experience of 6 years as governor of Michigan, and may have been even more prominent for handling Detroit and Michigan’s economic woes during the 2000s. However, the divisive nature of her budget cuts in the state and campaigning during the onset of the Great Recession instead of governing might have hurt her, but given the circumstances of the 2008 election it is difficult to see a Democrat losing the presidential election that year.