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SOON-TO-RETIRE GRANDMOTHER IS A HARDBALL PLAYER IN D.C. POLITICS

When entering the Washington office of Harriett Woods, the first thing you notice is the crayon-colored "World's Greatest Grandma" sign that hangs on the door. And at first glance, the 68-year-old president of the National Women's Political Caucus looks like she might be more comfortable baking her grandkids a pie.

But as President Clinton learned the hard way, beneath her gray hair and gentle, grandmotherly demeanor, Woods has the soul of a hardball political operator. The gentle lady who looks like she should be baking pies has actually spent the past four years cooking up a political revolution. Her tactics are so tough that the normally unflappable Clinton once lost his cool and angrily denounced this die-hard Democrat as a "bean counter."With Woods set to retire soon, top officials at the caucus worry that some of the historic gains made by women in the 1992 elections might be wiped out. While 1992 saw a record 24 new women elected to Congress, last year's net gain was one Senate seat and none in the House. Across the country, fewer women ran for elective office last year than two years earlier.

"While 1992 was the Year of the Woman, we're fighting hard so that women don't rest on those successes and 1996 doesn't become the year of the complacent woman," a top caucus official told us.

In the weeks following the 1992 elections, Woods was relentless in making sure Clinton kept his promise to create a Cabinet that looked "more like America." She created a newsletter called The Mirror that counted the number of female appointees, and she forced several meetings with Clinton's top aides.

Woods boiled over the fact that only a handful of the 14 Cabinet posts went to women, so one weekend in December she helped flood the governor's mansion in Little Rock with faxes demanding that Clinton keep his word. Clinton publicly exploded, labeling Woods and her cohorts as "bean counters" too worried about "playing quota games."

Clinton was shamed into beefing up his sub-Cabinet to the point that 30 percent of his senior policy positions are now filled by women. Woods says their relationship is fine now, but she still burns about the message Clinton sent out: that he wasn't going to be bullied by a special interest.

"The only problem I have with that is that women are not a special interest," Woods told our associate Ed Henry. "I like Bill Clinton and certainly Hillary Clinton, but they just don't get it in terms of women. Women should be fully integrated into all decisions and into the whole process, not sort of like, `Let's go out there and get the women's vote."'

Woods plans to issue a "wake-up call" to women at the caucus's national convention this weekend in Nashville, which is celebrating the 75th anniversary of women's suffrage.