The mere presence of each of these candidates among the top nominees is noteworthy in itself. Yet each candidate's "minority" status presents new challenges for their campaigns to face and overcome.
There have been recent debates concerning Sen. Obama's "blackness," or lack thereof; and Governor Richardson also must overcome the hurdles he faces due to his heritage, despite his many accomplishments, including his post as ambassador to the United Nations.
However, as a woman trying to climb the career ladder in a modern, yet still not equal world, I am most intrigued by the reaction to Sen. Clinton's announcement to run in 2008.
I am encouraged, because in one way it symbolizes how far we have come as a nation. In just my lifetime, we have arrived at a place where a woman could, in fact, become the next leader of the free world.
Yes, a woman can handle the job
Yet I become easily frustrated when I hear the question that frequently arises in political discussions both in the media and in personal conversation - can a woman really handle the job? While I have not yet decided who I will support in 2008, the answer to this question seems obvious to me - a resounding yes. To think otherwise would be setting our nation on a backward slide to a society in which women fought hard to rise against.
Yet perhaps the real concern shouldn't be whether a woman can handle the job, but rather, is a woman - any woman - even electable? Or more specifically, is Sen. Clinton electable? She is, after all, a woman with many strikes against her immediately out of the starting gate.
Not only is she a former First Lady, an unusual obstacle in itself, she also enters the race with eight years of her husband's legacy - both personal and political - having an impact on the way the public views her.
She also is a woman who has long been harshly criticized by the Republican right-wing for being "too liberal," and warily looked upon by some on the Democratic left as being "too moderate." Her refusal to apologize for her vote authorizing the Iraq War in 2002 continues to be a major source of contention among liberals, while long-harbored ill feelings toward President Clinton cloud her reputation among conservatives.
Yet despite all the political obstacles Sen. Clinton faces on her journey to November 2008, I have to wonder what other challenges she faces as the first and only woman in the race thus far - challenges that women must endure when remnants of a pre-Civil Rights Act era still linger.
Women viewed in different light than men
Women are often viewed in a different light than men, it cannot be argued. They are criticized more frequently than men for their demeanor or appearance. I remember a time when Sen. Clinton herself expressed annoyance while she was First Lady about the amount of press attention her wardrobe was receiving, rather than the policies she was trying to enact.
She also is heavily criticized for being out-spoken, demanding and opinionated - qualities that are often seen as good for men to possess.
Is the nation ready? Can Senator Clinton, or any woman, become our next president? These are questions that, no matter the outcome, are overdue to be answered.
Women face many struggles in the continued fight for equality, whether we realize it or not. I can see the changes coming slowly.
With each generation, society shifts and rearranges into ways we cannot imagine. Even if Sen. Clinton does not become the next president of the United States, her simple presence on the ballot is helping dispel the notion that women can not run for higher office.
And that, perhaps, is the most important thing.