Michael Barone
An interesting story from last winter: An email friend who lives in an affluent suburb far from Washington, a staunch Republican, was watching one of the Republican debates with his wife, a staunch Democrat.

He was surprised by her response to Mitt Romney. "He's a grown-up. He's someone who is reliable," he told me she said. "People will feel safe if he is in charge."

I've been thinking about that email in the wake of the first presidential debate on Oct. 3 and the vice presidential debate last week. (This is written on deadline before the Oct. 16 Long Island, N.Y., debate.)

There's obviously been a surge toward Romney. He was trailing in just about every national poll conducted before Oct. 3. He has been leading in most conducted since.

His national lead was matched as swing state polls came in. In the realclearpolitics.com average of recent polls, he's ahead or even in states with 248 electoral votes. He's ahead, even or within 2 points in states with 301 electoral votes, 31 more than the 270-vote majority.

Fascinatingly, it appears that he's made greater gains among women than men. The USA Today/Gallup poll has him running even with Barack Obama among women, 48 to 48 percent. Pew Research Center's post-debate poll has women at 47 to 47.

That's a huge difference from 2008, when the exit poll showed Barack Obama leading John McCain among women by 56 to 43 percent. Men favored Obama by only 1 point.

All the evidence suggests that the first debate made the difference. "In every poll we've seen a major surge in favorability for Romney," Democratic pollster Celinda Lake told USA Today's Susan Page.

"Women went into the debate actively disliking Romney," she went on, "and they came out thinking he might understand their lives and might be able to get something done for them."

That sounds a lot like what my email friend's wife said last winter.

Obama campaign strategists are pooh-poohing the notion that Romney could be making gains with women.

Why, he's against "access to contraception," they thunder. That was something we heard a lot about at the Democratic National Convention.

But it's code language. "Access to contraception" turns out not to mean access to contraception. No one anywhere in the country is proposing to ban contraceptives. The Supreme Court ruled in 1965 -- 47 years ago! -- that states can't do that.

The code language refers to the Obamacare requirement that employers' health insurance pay for contraception. So "access" means you won't have to pay the $9 a month contraceptives cost at Wal-Mart.

Big deal. That's about the price of two pumpkin lattes at Starbucks.


Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM