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Confusing polls: Has Mitt Romney closed the gender gap or not?

Mitt Romney has caught up to President Obama among women voters in one poll, but has fallen further behind in another. The truth is unclear, but Obama needs to hold his ground.

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He was likely alluding to the latest gender blowup in the Republican universe, the comment Tuesday by Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock (R), who said in a debate that pregnancies resulting from rape are “something God intended.”

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Wednesday night, Obama slammed the Mourdock comment on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno: “Rape is rape. It is a crime.”

Romney’s spokeswoman said that Mr. Mourdock’s statements do not reflect Romney’s views, though Romney has stood by his endorsement of Mourdock. Romney allows for a rape exception in his opposition to abortion rights (though running mate Paul Ryan does not).

In a new video out Thursday, the Obama campaign asked: "Mitt Romney's solution to extremism against women? Promote the extremists."

On the stump, Obama has also pounded hard on gender pay equity and on contraception, defending his decision to require religiously affiliated institutions to provide birth control in employee health plans.

At the Republican National Convention, Romney’s wife, Ann, made an overt plea to women – “I love you women!” – in a speech aimed directly at addressing the gender gap that has dogged her husband’s campaign.

Mitt Romney mentions women’s issues far less frequently than Obama, focusing instead on the economy, the No. 1 issue for voters overall. But there does appear to be a gender gap in issue emphasis. A recent poll of swing states by USA Today/Gallup found men concerned about the economy to a higher degree than women.

When asked an open-ended question about the most important issue in the election, three out of four men said either jobs or the economy, and 10 percent cited the budget deficit or balancing the budget. For women, the top concern was abortion, mentioned by 40 percent. Fifteen percent said equal rights, pay, or opportunity.

In Massachusetts, where Romney conducted his career in business, then served as governor, another matter is developing that relates to women. The Boston Globe has been seeking a court release of sealed testimony by Romney in the divorce hearing of a co-worker in 1991. Romney has said, through his attorney, that “he has no objection to letting the public see that testimony.”

Thursday morning, a Massachusetts court ruled that Romney’s testimony can be released. It seems unlikely that the case could become an “October surprise” that influences the outcome of the election. After all, it’s about Romney’s friend, not Romney himself. But in this highly charged, and tight, presidential race, any matter that could influence even a few votes bears scrutiny. And so the media are paying close attention. 

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