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Kathleen Parker - 10/18/09
REPUBLICAN WOMEN -- HEAR THEM ROAR

As the Republican Party continues its pilgrimage through the desert, its leaders may be missing the oasis for the vale of tears.

The answer to the party's woes isn't a revamped Web site (GOP.com) offering - wowser! - really cool social networking platforms.

The answer won't be found in the sudden realization that 83 percent of young people 18 to 24 have an online profile - or other late-breaking revelations that merely reinforce the perception of the GOP as woefully behind the curve.

The answer is ... drum roll, please ... women.

If the GOP is really serious about expanding the party, it's time for the men to hush and let the pros take over. As the saying goes: If you need something done, hire a busy woman. Or, as the White House Project puts it: "Add women, change everything."

In the past few months, several conservative women have emerged as candidates and critics to challenge the notion that the GOP is the party of men. They're also putting to rest any thought that Sarah Palin is the female face of the party.

The McCain campaign had the right idea; it just picked the wrong woman.

Among the newer comers are two mega-businesswomen and two famous daughters, representing younger generations with divergent ideas. Although these aren't the only Republican women rising, they offer a glimpse at what could become a surge of hormonal correction on the conservative side.

First up in this new league of their own are two celebrity entrepreneurs. Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay, is running for governor of California. And Carly Fiorina, former Hewlett-Packard CEO, plans to challenge California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. Neither woman has any political experience beyond advising and stumping for Sen. John McCain during his last presidential run, but that would seem a bonus to an incumbent-weary nation.

Fiorina, the first woman to run a Fortune 20 company, has lost some of her early luster with Republican voters, according to a recent Field Poll. And Democrats have criticized her as "one of the 20 worst CEOs in the country," a bold charge from the party that propelled a community organizer with zero executive experience to the White House.

Fiorina's lower numbers are likely a reflection of her reduced visibility recently while undergoing breast cancer treatments. By contrast, her Republican opponent has been stumping to the tune of more than 160 political events since last November. A close adviser says Fiorina, who is "definitely running," is on the mend and expects to be locked and loaded in a couple of weeks.

Billionaire Whitman is running a tight race against two opponents for the Republican nomination, spending much of her own money along the way. If she wins - and then defeats Democrat Jerry Brown (big ifs) - she would become one of only four Republican women governors.

This deficit in high office is both a taint on the GOP and a reflection of the broader assumption that Republicans are monolithically against women's rights. Specifically, the party's pro-life platform alienates pro-choice women, as well as moderates, who otherwise might find common cause with conservative principles.

Women such as pro-choice Whitman and "personally" pro-life Fiorina could help change that impression, while also raising other issues women care about. Fiorina caused a slight ripple in the Republican zeitgeist during McCain's campaign when she criticized insurance companies for covering Viagra and not birth control.

Meanwhile, another Meg (McCain) and Liz Cheney, daughter of the former vice president, have emerged as strong voices in a party with too few sopranos.

It isn't quite fair to group McCain with Cheney, given their respective resumes - one a 24-year-old celebrity blogger whose fame is (thus far) inherited and the other, Cheney, 43, a former deputy assistant secretary of state. But both are relatively fresh voices with instant name recognition. And each appeals to a different, perhaps untapped, demographic.

Cheney, recently dubbed a "red-state rock star," just launched a new Web site, KeepAmericaSafe.com, where she and others plan to critique foreign policy issues. And the socially liberal McCain, though she may not please the party elders, appeals to younger voters who otherwise wouldn't consider lifting the flap on the old man's tent.

Four women: a pro-life hawk; a pro-choice, pro-gay rights libertarian; two entrepreneurs, one pro-choice and one pro-life. This doesn't sound like your daddy's Republican Party, but it could be your daughter's - if the men wise up.

Kathleen Parker's e-mail address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.