The gender gap is back. As Chris Matthews said years ago, Republicans are the daddy party and Democrats the mommy party. Democrats win when they drive a greater gap in their favor among women to compensate for their consistent deficit with men. When this gap is muted or nonexistent as it was in 2004, Democrats lose.

This year polls have shown a consistent margin in favor of the president among female voters. The explanation has been the Republican embrace of hard-right positions on social issues, such as abortion, birth control and immigration. Democrats, perceiving blood, are trying to drive the wedge by calling for a vote on strengthening the Violence Against Women Act. The legislation, which has enjoyed wide bipartisan support, was opposed recently by Republicans in the Judiciary Committee, which made Democrats even more frothy.

Republicans aren’t unaware of the bill’s political appeal and the danger of opposing it, but some of them just can’t help themselves; their disdain for government involvement extends to all things. Others are under the thumb of right-wing interest groups that opposed the law in the first place.

Charles Grassley, who along with Mitch McConnell, is normally the toughest and savviest Republican senator, had a rather weak quote excerpted in the New York Times when he said that the proposed tweaks, which include new protections for stalking victims, same-sex couples, and women on Indian reservations, “create so many new programs for the underserved that it loses focus on helping the victims, period.”

As you can see, this is not a winning issue for the Republicans. More broadly, Republicans are in danger of activating the Democrats' essential weapon: women.