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Newt Gingrich’s woman problem

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How will the details revealed by Marianne Gingrich regarding her former husband’s personal life – and Newt Gingrich’s defiant response – play out among the GOP presidential primary electorate?

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). (Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images)

We won’t know the answer to that question until the Palmetto State polls close 30 hours from now at 7 p.m. Saturday.

But it’s worth keeping in mind that even before Marianne Gingrich went public, Newt Gingrich was already facing tough odds when it comes to his support among women nationally — a factor that underscores the argument made by his GOP rivals against his electability in the fall.

There typically tends to be a gender gap in presidential general elections, as women vote more Democratic than men.

But a CNN/Time/Opinion Research survey conducted Jan. 11-12 showed that among national adults, Gingrich faces the biggest gender gap of all the GOP contenders.

If the general election had been held in mid-January – before news of the Marianne Gingrich interviews had broken -- the CNN survey shows President Obama would have taken 54 percent to Gingrich’s 41 percent. Among only men, that gap narrows to a six-percentage point difference: 49 percent for Obama and 43 percent to Gingrich.

But among women, it widens to 18 points: 58 percent for Obama and 40 percent for Gingrich.

That’s wider than the 13 points by which Obama bested Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) among women in 2008, as well as the three points by which Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) won women over George W. Bush in 2004.

In the CNN match-ups, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) faces a 16-point gender gap against Obama, while former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum trails Obama by 15 points among women.

The gender gap for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney?

It exists, but it’s not so pronounced. Among all adults, Obama would take 49 percent to Romney’s 47 percent; among women, Obama has an eight-point advantage, 53 percent to 45 percent.

What does it all mean for Gingrich?

For starters, one big caveat when it comes to reading into the poll results is that the dynamics of the race are unpredictable and likely to change over the coming 10 months, so national match-ups at this point in the game don’t give the most accurate read on what’s to come.

Even so, the survey suggests that Gingrich faces an uphill climb in terms of rounding up support among women nationally – a factor that could play a role in the candidate’s ability to appeal to the record 40 percent of voters who now describe themselves as independents.

What’s also noteworthy is that even among likely South Carolina GOP primary voters, Gingrich faces a lack of support among women – and that gap has held steady in recent weeks, even as Gingrich’s overall support in the Palmetto State has increased.

A CNN/Time/Opinion Research poll conducted Jan. 13-17 showed Romney leading Gingrich 33 percent to 23 percent among all likely South Carolina GOP voters. That overall 10-point gap is narrower than the 19 points by which Romney led Gingrich in South Carolina earlier this month.

Interestingly, Gingrich takes only 16 percent among women to Romney’s 34 percent in the most recent South Carolina poll – an 18-point difference.

That’s about the same gap as he saw earlier this month, when Gingrich took 20 percent to Romney’s 39 percent among women likely to vote in the South Carolina GOP primary – a 19-point difference.

Will that gap widen as news of the Marianne Gingrich interview circulates? Or will Gingrich’s forceful pushback against the interview rally voters to his side? That’s just one of the many storylines to watch as Saturday’s results come in.

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