There is often a gender gap between the two political parties, with woman voters tending to favor the Democrats while a majority of men support Republican candidates. In recent weeks, however, as the Republican Party has become embroiled in the contraception issue, that gap has widened into an abyss.

A survey of a dozen swing states taken by USA Today shows President Obama leading Republican front-runner Mitt Romney by 51% to 42% among registered voters, just a month after having trailed by two points. Most of that change comes from women under 50, who now support Obama over Romney by roughly 60% to 30%, while in mid-February, the figures were more equal.

Obama now leads Romney among all women by 18 points and trails him among all men by just a single point. Romney is strongly favored only among men over 50, with whom he has a lead of 56% to 38%.

The poll found that the gender gap also extends to party identification, with women describing themselves as Democrats by a wide margin of 41% to 24%. Men were more likely to identify as Republicans, but only by 27% to 25%.

Obama campaign manager Jim Messina told USA Today that Romney's promise to "end Planned Parenthood" and his support for allowing employers to exclude contraception from employee health insurance plans will cause him "severe problems" in the general election.

"Romney's run to the right may be winning him Tea Party votes," Messina stated, but "American women can't trust Romney to stand up for them."

"The focus on contraception has not been a good one for us," admits Republican strategist Sarah Taylor Fagen, "and Republicans have unfairly taken on water on this issue."

Fagan's words can presumably be taken to represent high-level Republican thinking. She is a former George W. Bush campaign strategist who served as White House political director starting in 2005, worked closely with Karl Rove, and became known for her repeated invocations of executive privilege when she was subpoenaed to testify in the U.S. Attorney scandal.

Photo by Chuck Kennedy (Source; Story) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons