More than 40 national women's organizations have banded together for a bipartisan Women's Agenda Conference in Iowa this weekend to discuss issues and plan increased political activity this year, when 10 million more women than men are expected to vote. But the group is facing one problem: None of the Republican presidential candidates has agreed to participate. At least five of the seven Democratic candidates will be on hand for a presidential forum. Former senator Gary Hart (D-Colo.) and Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.) have not accepted.
The lack of interest by the Republican candidates is particularly surprising since the memberships of two of the major sponsors, Business and Professional Women/USA and the American Association of University Women (AAUW), are at least half Republican.
"The candidates' forum is our first opportunity to get women's voices in the dialogue," said Ann Lewis, Democratic consultant to the conference. "It is very frustrating for Republican women" not to have their party's candidates present.
"Women's issues have been devalued," said Sarah Harder, president of AAUW. And Beth Wray, president of BPW, said at a news conference yesterday that the presidential candidates are not talking enough about issues such as equal rights, civil rights, economics, housing, welfare and health care. She said, "This conference provides the candidates with an opportunity to deal substantively with the issues that women care most about."