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BOSTON (AP) – Republicans are exploring ways to recruit more women voters – usually a Democratic-leaning group – while fine-tuning their message on issues that have been tough for the GOP, such as health care, energy and the environment.

GOP leaders boast of early successes of the Bush administration on tax cuts and education, but some Republicans acknowledge the party needs to re-examine how it’s telling the public about its accomplishments and goals.

“We’re selling stuff in tune with the historic currents, but we have a marketing challenge,” said Republican consultant Alex Castellanos. “We haven’t made our case as well as we can yet.”

Opening the summer meeting of the Republican National Committee on Wednesday, party leaders said they are encouraged by President Bush’s standing in the polls and their recent victory in a competitive congressional district in Virginia.

“The most recent Gallup poll shows the president’s policies are strong, job approval is in the high 50s, personal approval is in the 70s,” said Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, RNC chairman. Several other recent polls had shown his approval slipping to just over 50 percent.

A theme of the summer meeting, Gilmore said, would be increasing the GOP’s outreach to women voters – highlighting the appeal of the GOP tax cuts and education proposals to families, as well as Bush proposals on prescription drugs and health care.

Bush got the votes of more than four in 10 women voters, and won a clear majority among men.

“This president is bringing a different tone to Washington … that is key to women,” Gilmore said.

Top Republicans note that fund-raising for the RNC is off to a good start, $48.6 million in the first six months.

Some Republicans as well as independent analysts say the party has more work to do.

“They’re staring history in the face,” said political analyst Charlie Cook, noting the party in power in the White House has a long history of losing House seats in midterm elections. The combination of a soft economy, as well as resistance to some Bush policies and public perceptions of his sympathies for big business could cause problems down the road, he said.

“There’s no reason for Republicans to be pessimistic, but a lot of reasons for them to be worried,” Cook said. “There are some clouds on the horizon.”

The GOP went through a rocky period when Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont left the party to become an independent and when the administration initially released its energy plans, said Florida GOP chairman Al Cardenas. He feels the GOP has regained its footing in recent weeks, but: “We have not been as successful as we should be in explaining our record.”

Cardenas, Gilmore and others say they’ve been pleased with White House efforts to gain ground among Hispanics, a rapidly growing demographic group that voted almost 2-to-1 for Democrat Al Gore in the 2000 presidential race. Many Republicans praised the president’s efforts at changing immigration policy and his meetings with Hispanic officials from other countries and said that is showing up in polls of Hispanics.

Some Republicans said Bush will have to personally sell his programs, but the party can do more to help.

“The most important contribution the RNC could make is to start helping the White House sell the president’s message,” said GOP consultant Scott Reed.

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