Why Do Women Suddenly Like Mitt Romney?

Among the most striking aspects of the post-debate polls that show Mitt Romney erasing President Obama's lead is the sudden closing of the gender gap.

The PEW Research Center Likely Voter Survey finds women evenly split between Obama and Romney, at 47 percent each. Last month, the same survey showed Obama with an 18-point advantage among women.

What happened?

On policy, the Republican candidate has not changed a bit. His party's platform still backs a human life amendment to the Constitution with no exceptions for rape or incest (although Romney now soft-pedals that position, as well as his promise to "end" Planned Parenthood--saying abortion legislation is not a priority for him).

Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, is still pushing a budget plan that disproportionately affects women by turning Medicare into a voucher program and undermining Social Security.

(Romney's biggest advantage in the polls is among women ages 18 to 49--not those approaching retirement age.)

Romney still wants to repeal ObamaCare, which recently expanded preventive health care coverage for millions of women.

And, let's face it, women still make up a disproportionate share of the 47 percent Romney so contemptuously dismissed. We still earn less than men, and are more likely to depend on Social Security, Medicare, and other government-funded programs--not to mention legislative protection like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

You could say that women, as a group, have a bigger stake in a community-oriented view of society--one that supports Head Start, family leave, public schools, college aid, government-run health care, and other social programs and protections for the disadvantaged--as opposed to the macho, go-it-alone ethic and economic policies of the Republican ticket.

So why are women suddenly more pro-Romney?

For one thing, there are more women swing voters. When swing voters as a group change their minds, it generally means a whole bunch of women have shifted.

Over the last week, they changed their minds after a debate that focused not at all on social issues.

The moderate-sounding Mitt eclipsed the Todd Akin, rape-can't-get-you pregnant, let's-use-vaginal-probes-to-shame-women-seeking-abortions wing of the party.

And Obama took a pass on mentioning the Republican Party's extremism on women's issues.

In other policy areas, Romney sounded downright reasonable: claiming to support health care coverage for people with preexisting conditions (which, nonsensically, he claimed the free market would take care of), denying that he would undermine Medicare, and even giving a shout-out to public-school teachers.

And, according to Bloomberg, the same white, married women who, despite their overall pro-choice views, faded away from Democrats in 2010 because of concerns about the economy (and voted in the most anti-woman House of Representatives in a generation) still see the Republicans as the party of economic growth.

In the debate, Obama failed to draw a sharp difference with his opponent on issues that matter to women.

At the vice presidential debate, Joe Biden will have a chance to make up some ground--against an opponent who has long been embraced by the most extreme no-exceptions anti-choice crowd, and who is the author of policies that would do the most economic damage to women.

If Biden and Obama can't get the job done, someone at the national Democratic Party should call back Sandra Fluke and Lilly Ledbetter.

It just can't be that hard to make the case that the Romney/Ryan ticket is, as NOW puts it, "a disaster for women."

If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Tommy/Tammy Senate Debate in Wisconsin."

Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter