President Reagan can close the "gender gap" for the 1984 presidential election by focusing on economic recovery and by recruiting women to run on the GOP slate with him, the Republican Party was told today.
One-hundred key Republican women from the Midwest are meeting here this weekend with national Republican Party leaders and an all-star lineup of the administration's female appointees.
It is the first in a series of nationwide meetings the GOP is planning to mobilize Republican women for 1984 in an effort to bridge the "gender gap" to prevent it from harming the president and the rest of the Republican slate.
Opinion polls since the 1980 election have shown women about 10 percent less supportive of Republicans than men are and increasingly registering as Democrats.
With increased black and Hispanic voter registration and growing antipathy toward Reagan presenting additional problems, the president's political advisers are stepping up their efforts to close the "gender gap."
In addition, Republican political strategists believe the president, or whoever the Republican candidate is, will need midwestern women to win next year.
"Our best response to the gender gap is to run more women for office and elect them as Republicans," Betty Heitman, co-chairman of the national Republican Party, told reporters. "We want to show American women that Republicans have women sitting in positions of power, making decisions about what is going on from the court house to the White House."
Heitman's remarks were echoed by Reagan in a videotape sent to the conference. Reagan told the largely middle-aged, middle-class women that the administration is fighting for women's rights but not at the expense of "respect for family and the homemakers who hold our families together."
"Now more than ever we need Republican women like yourselves to become involved in politics, run for office or offer to serve in a local, state or federal appointment," he said. "I need your continued help if we are to reach our goals. When you return to your neighborhoods and communities, help us get the message out. Tell people of the progress we've made."
Reagan and the women here from his administration, including Secretary of Health and Human Services Margaret M. Heckler, U.S. Treasurer Angela Buchanan and assistant to the president for public liaison Faith Ryan Whittlesey, focused on economic recovery as the issue to rev up the Republican women.
Betty Rendel, president of the National Federation of Republican Women, said that despite the president's success in getting the recovery started, most women do not even credit him with bringing inflation down.
"Women were hurt by the recession," she said. "They were the first laid off. And cuts in social programs have made low-income women very insecure. They're not focusing on what we've done."
In his taped presentation, Reagan told the women that a "loaf of bread now costs 2 cents more than it did in 1980, but if we had continued with the old rate of inflation, it would have cost 12 cents more."
"In just two short years," Whittlesey said in the keynote address here this morning, "this president has taken dramatic steps to restore the economic security of American women. The purchasing power of a family or a single woman on a fixed income of $20,000 is $1,700 higher this year than it would have been under the old inflation rate.
"Lower inflation has also preserved the real value of welfare benefits and more than offset the modest reduction in food stamp benefits . After all the rhethoric about how Reagan has hurt the poor, the fact is she is getting higher benefits than she would have under Carter's policies and Carter's inflation," she added.
The conference was intended by party officials to address concerns that polling data show are causing the "gender gap." In addition to the economy, these include Reagan's foreign policy, his push for increased spending on defense and cuts in the rate of increased spending for domestic programs and the perception that he is insensitve to worries about education, crime and Social Security.
It was also intended to persuade women to put their names on the ballot with him.
"Anyone can stand up and engage in political rhetoric," Frank Fahrenkopf, the GOP national chairman, said in his Washington office last week. "The proof is in the pudding. And the difference in the two parties is who's electing women to office and putting women in their administration in positions of responsibility."
At the conference Heitman blamed the "gender gap" on Democrats' "demagoguery" as well as on groups such as the National Organization for Women. She said that NOW has incorrectly grouped all women together as a "homogeneous herd."
"Well, the Democrats have come up with a strategy that is as old as politics itself, divide and conquer," Heitman told the conference. "They want Americans to consider themselves as black or white, Catholic or Jew, Italian or Irish, German or Hispanic or Anglo. Man or woman."