The small but persistent gender gap seems to have emerged because, women say, they appreciate Romney’s values, family story, business background – and, yes, his chiseled good looks – while being less interested in the ideological critiques that seem to be causing him more problems with male voters. It amounts to seeing him through a different lens.

“He is just a gentleman. He’s a good man, a good American family man,’’ Linda Thurlow, a 45-year-old stay-at-home mother from York, Maine, said as she prepared to take the ice at a local hockey rink here.

Romney’s strength with female voters – they support him by about five percentage points more than men do – was not something he saw in his 2002 campaign for governor nor his 2008 presidential run…

Romney advisers say the opinions they hear from women in their research – that they are more interested in his experience, demeanor, and commitment to his family – were echoed in interviews with a dozen “hockey moms’’ at the Rinks at Exeter.

They emphasized Romney’s bipartisanship, his business background, and his reluctance to mount any personal attacks. They downplay his perceived flaws, such as the Massachusetts health care plan, and few mention his changed positions.