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`Gender canyon' looms over the Grand Old Party

Republicans face a "gender canyon" among middle-age voters, according to polling data counseling prospective GOP House challengers that many women favor government action in education, health care security and environmental protection.

"Too often we are intent on `teaching (President) Clinton a lesson' and ultimately boxed in by policy and process and lose the rhetorical debate," said the briefing provided at a candidates' school for potential GOP contenders in next year's congressional elections."Too often we seem intent upon putting ideological purity above political reality," added the analysis, presented by Republican pollster Linda DiVall.

DiVall reviewed her polling data with Republican hopefuls gathered at the National Republican Congressional Committee two blocks from the Capitol. "We had about 50 candidates from all over the country," said Mary Crawford, a spokeswoman for the committee, the political organization for House Republicans.

In a telephone interview, DiVall said her presentation was designed to make Republican contenders aware that "the gender gap is a significant electoral problem," yet it can be addressed without wavering from Republican principles if GOP candidates "understand how women react to some of our policies."

As a difference in views between men and women, she cited a question about the potential uses for a budget surplus. A majority of men believe the surplus should go to deficit reduction, while a majority of women believe it should go for tax relief for working families, she said.

The polling was conducted roughly midway between the 1996 elections and next year's balloting, when Republicans will be defending a narrow majority in the House of Representatives.

The GOP currently holds a 227-206 edge in the House, with one independent lawmaker and one vacancy. The vacancy will be filled by special election next week in New York City in a race in which the Republican candidate has pulled ahead in private polling.

The polling data indicates that little has changed since the 1996 election in terms of Republican support among men and women. Among all voters, the survey indicated men favor Republicans over Democrats by a margin of 47-37; among women it's almost the opposite, 38-47.