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Would GOP nominate a woman?

Elizabeth Dole, in first New Hampshire swing, tests themes and level ofsupport.

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"Given her record, some Republicans might view her as a liberal," says Jack Pitney, a political analyst at Claremont McKenna College in California, who has worked for the national GOP.

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When Dole worked in the Reagan White House, she supported equal pay for equal work of "comparable worth," a concept that conservatives believe would give federal regulators the ability to determine "proper pay" for every job, Mr. Pitney says. "That idea is anathema to supporters of limited government."

If she runs, Dole may have her biggest problems with the religious activists in her party. Despite her own evangelical beliefs, she is not identified with their issues, such as abortion and school prayer.

On the flip side, for the general election, she could have broad appeal, because she's not viewed as a captive of the religious right. "She's pretty well positioned to straddle the factions in the Republican Party," says James Shoch, an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.

Republicans also note that, worldwide, it is usually conservatives who are first to break the gender barrier in elections. Speaking here on Saturday to a group of reporters, the Rev. Pat Robertson - founder of the Christian Coalition - told the Monitor he didn't think religious conservatives would have a problem with a woman president.

"Margaret Thatcher was always my favorite statesperson in the foreign field, she and Golda Meir," says Mr. Robertson, referring to former leaders of Britain and Israel. "They've shown us that we can have some very distinguished women leaders."

Still, the United States' winner-take-all political system has made it hard for women to win office. Of the 100 US senators, only nine are women, and only three of 50 governorships - the modern-day breeding ground for presidents - are held by females.

Nation may want a woman

But as the nation's year-long impeachment ordeal winds down, some voters may welcome female leadership, on the belief that women may be less prone to get involved in messy sexual situations.

Says GOP activist Bea Francoeur: "You know how men can be. Elizabeth Dole wouldn't put us through that."

Yesterday, Dole attended a breakfast with possible supporters to gauge her fund-raising potential. But New Hampshire Republicans assume that money won't be a problem for her.

As president of the Red Cross for eight years, she raised more than $3 billion. She can also count on her husband to be a big asset as a fund raiser. He has become a bit of a GOP celebrity since being defeated by Bill Clinton in 1996.

To mount a credible campaign for president, analysts say, any candidate will have to raise $20 million by the end of the year.

Because of her name recognition and political pedigree, Dole can wait longer than most to announce formation of an exploratory committee, as can Bush. But her aides say she will announce her decision soon.

*Contributing to this report were Monitor staffer Stacy A. Teicher and James Turner of the Monitor's electronic edition.