Sunday, September 1, 1996
GOP's entry to key market: Pick a woman

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Mike Allen, Hamilton County's bright, likable new GOP chair, told me he's ''agonizing'' over the replacement for outgoing Cincinnati Councilman Nick Vehr. I think I can help end your suffering, Mr. Chairman. It's quick. It's easy. It's legal.

Just pick a qualified woman.

This week Mr. Allen was handed the short list by a screening committee of the Hamilton County Republican Party, which interviewed five potential replacements. The committee had unceremoniously dumped Diane Goldsmith, who ran 14th, and John Kruse, who finished 12th in the 1995 council race.

Jeanette Cissell, who finished 10th, made the cut. Besides owning her own company, Corporate Employment Inc., she's married to Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Jim Cissell. The Cissell name is well-known to voters here.

The name game

Name recognition is gold. Last time, 18 candidates spent $2.4 million to get their names before the voters. That's what those yard signs are all about. That's why people pass out nail files and combs and cups with their names on them. That's why somebody like Roxanne Qualls had to run a couple of times before the voters finally figured out that she might be a good idea. Name recognition.

So, here are the other two candidates on the list with Jeanette Cissell: Frederick Nelson and Todd Ward. Are they household words around your household?

Fred Nelson works for U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot as his chief of staff in Washington. A lawyer, he has worked for Taft, Stettinius & Hollister and served as associate legal counsel to President Bush. Todd Ward is chief legislative officer for Ohio Treasurer Ken Blackwell and a former employee of the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce.

The Republicans would have to spend a lot of money introducing either of these men to the voters. Jeanette Cissell, who has already proved that she's a contender, would be a bargain. And she is, if I may say so again, an actual woman. For a party that desperately needs them.

''We have a serious gender gap at the state, national and local level,'' Mr. Allen says carefully.

Yes, sir, you do. Polls suggest that Republicans have problems connecting with women, especially with professional, white collar women. This is news to exactly zero percent of the women I know.

The ability to keep score does not travel on the Y chromosome. Of the nine seats on city council, only three are occupied by women - Minette Cooper, Roxanne Qualls and Bobbie Sterne. Not one of them is Republican.

What better way to give a big warm handshake to Hamilton County women than to choose one of them for your team? Think of her as a working symbol, sort of like your own Susan Molinari.

A businesslike approach

''People select and hire people who look like them,'' says Republican Anne Power Kohnen, a former Cincinnati School Board member and president of the Cincinnati Women's Political Caucus.

OK, let's just look at it in a businesslike way. Instead of thinking of the huge disparity between the women who choose the Democratic Party over the Republicans as a gap - which some polls put as high as 20 percent - think of us as an untapped market. The Republicans should be figuring out a way to get women to switch from Brand X.

We're not a gender gap, we're a great big potential customer base. And we're pretty smart consumers, if we do say so.

''Women make the purchasing decisions in this country,'' says Ms. Kohnen, ''and we know how to buy. We're not an easy pitch. Republicans need to get us a product we'll purchase.''

Mike Allen says he wants our business, and I believe him. So, the next step is easy. You've got the whole county as your personnel pool. Hire a qualified woman.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM) and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.