Why has Mitt Romney surged into the lead over President Obama? The mainstream media has finally admitted that Obama's pathetic debate performance has turned the race upside down, with all of the latest national polls, and some of the most important swing state polls registering a small but significant single-digit lead for the challenger.
But you won't find many stories, even at the Huffington Post, telling you which voter group's defection from the president has proven most costly. It's not white voters, or even men, let alone working class men. It's female voters, and it includes some of the very women - educated suburbanites - who first catapulted Obama to the White House in 2008.
That's right, folks, consult the latest polls and you'll soon discover an inconvenient truth: the vaunted gender gap, while not completely gone, has winnowed away. Romney still has a healthy single-digit lead among male voters, but Obama's one-time high double-digit lead among female voters has vanished.
Take, for example, last week's Pew Research poll that first sent shock waves among Democrats, while cheering Republicans. In an earlier Pew poll conducted in mid-September, Obama enjoyed a nearly 20 point lead over Romney among women. But within days of the debate, the lead was down to 3.
And it's not just Pew, or the other national polls. In Florida, where Romney has just surged to a 7-point lead in the latest Miami Herald poll, Obama has lost 13 points to Romney among women. In a separate poll by ARG, he's lost 8 points. In both polls, his margin with women now stands at just 3, while Romney continues to lead strongly among men.
Who is Obama losing? Mainly, it seems, it's the so-called "Walmart Moms," the married with young children working mothers who largely backed him in 2008, but who swung sharply to the GOP in 2010. These women tend to be non-partisan and relatively unimpressed with ideological appeals, especially appeals on social issues, including abortion. They are most concerned about pocketbook issues, including the deficit and rising consumer prices, issues that increasingly favor Romney.
The defection among the Walmart Moms is not entirely new, though. Polls conducted in states like New Hampshire some months ago already showed a huge "class gap" between female voters. Educated suburban women were overwhelmingly backing the president, by as much as 26 points in one state poll, while working class women were slightly favoring Romney.
Which raises an important question: who's defecting now? The answer, it seems, is both groups. While comprehensive polling break downs aren't available, pro-choice groups like NARAL are engaged in one of the most intensive "micro-targeting" campaign efforts in US election history, identifying roughly 5 million women in 25 US counties as "Obama Defectors" that the group hopes the White House - and feminist funders like Emily's List - will help target with special messaging about the GOP's "war on women."
The defection of pro-choice women to the GOP might seem shocking to some progressives, but it's happened before. In 1984, Ronald Reagan won re-election with a commanding lead among both women and men. Even George W. Bush narrowly lost women to John Kerry in 2004, while soundly beating him among men.
Bush's near victory among women gave rise to the term "security Moms" to describe women - especially white suburbanites who typically swing national elections - who tend to shy away from Democratic candidates that project leadership weakness, especially on national security issues.
According to Time's Joe Klein, Democrats largely lost the Clinton-era "soccer Moms" to Bush after 9/11 by failing to see the security issue as a "hearth and home" concern. They opposed the rise of the Homeland Security bureaucracy and underestimated the power of global terrorism as an unusually powerful galvanizing issue for female voters.
Which raises an intriguing, if disturbing, possibility. Are some female voters defecting from Obama over his handling of the latest Libya crisis? In fact, while seemingly far away, the death of the US ambassador and three of his aides due to a failure to provide embassy security - and a widely circulated video of one of the aide's mothers complaining about being stonewalled by the White House - is just the kind of issue that tends to shock the sensibilities of security Moms.
But there are other pocketbook issues - especially skyrocketing gas prices, as well as rising health care costs - that seem just as important right now. The mainstream media seems to be living in the same bubble that Obama is. Hoping that the Romney surge will fade of its own accord, while simply sallying forth with more of the same message.
But refusing to acknowledge, let alone analyze, the extent of female voter defection isn't really doing the president any favors.