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New poll shows Obama making big gains with female voters in battleground states

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(Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

Female voters in battleground states are rallying around President Obama in droves, according to a new USA Today/Gallup poll released Monday, suggesting a gender gap could pose one of the Republicans' biggest challenges in this fall's general election race.

Obama led Mitt Romney by 18 percentage points among female registered voters in the nation's top 12 swing states. The gender gap between Obama and Rick Santorum was 15 points. USA Today reports that this is the "first significant lead" the president has held in these key voting states.

Those leads represent big gains for the president, compared to previous swing state polls conducted by USA Today/Gallup, according to USA Today:

"The biggest change came among women under 50. In mid-February, just under half of those voters supported Obama. Now more than six in 10 do while Romney's support among them has dropped by 14 points, to 30%. The president leads him 2-1 in this group."

Recent Quinnipiac University polls conducted in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania bore out similar results. Female voters supported the president over Romney or Santorum by 6 to 19 percentage points in these three states.

Democrats are likely to use these poll numbers to fuel their argument that the Republicans are alienating female voters this cycle by focusing on women's issues, something which is also likely to shape Democratic voter outreach efforts.

Democrats have branded congressional Republicans' coordinated opposition to free birth control this year as well as Romney's stated pledge to end Planned Parenthood as key actions in the Republican party's "war on women." (The party also lumps in conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh's verbal attacks on Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke.)

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Amid these controversial national issues, the Obama campaign has made a strategic effort to court female voters.

Romney continues to hold a significant lead among men age 50 and older, according to the latest USA Today/Gallup poll. Republicans typically hold an advantage among this voting bloc. Women overall are more likely to identify themselves as Democrats.

The poll of registered voters released Monday was conducted March 25-26 in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

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