To win reelection, Obama needs big margins among women. But a spate of national polls, and even some battleground state surveys, shows his robust leads have slipped away. The challenges after the first debate have remained for Obama as Romney continues to reshape his candidacy with a more moderate message on foreign policy, abortion and taxes.

Nobody expects Obama to actually lose the women’s vote, and many Democratic strategists argue that Obama’s overwhelming lead after the conventions and at the height of the contraception battles last spring was never sustainable. But Obama’s new vulnerability among female voters gives fresh urgency to the latest war-on-women attacks, sparked by Indiana GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s comments about pregnancy and rape.

“I was surprised women would be as open to Romney as they were [after the first debate], and it was a warning to all of us,” said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who specializes in framing issues to women voters. “The warning was that women had not written Romney off, and we had to speak to them and draw clear contrasts until the last day of the campaign.”…

“Women turned on the TV and saw a Romney that defied the caricature and the impression they had of him,” said Kellyanne Conway, a Republican pollster who specializes in the women’s vote. “And in the matter of a split screen, saw two men they didn’t know existed: Romney as accessible, knowledgeable and plausible, and a President Obama who is everything they didn’t believe him to be — disengaged and not focused.”