Saturday I was back in Pennsylvania talking to voters, this time in a more conservative suburban part of Plymouth Meeting. My most interesting encounter was with a 76 year-old Democrat who declined at first to mention any particular issue she concerned about but volunteered that she and her husband would vote for Kerry. Then as I was leaving, she asked if she could get my opinion on something “as a young person.” I watched her visibly struggle to describe the incident that had struck her – Kerry’s mention of Mary Cheney in the debate – and finally explain it as his reference to her being “I forget the word…um, a girl who has a girlfriend, if you know what I mean.” She was clearly troubled by the concept, and I braced myself for a difficult debate about it.

Figuring it was best to answer the question she’d explicitly asked – what I thought when Kerry mentioned her, I responded with something like, “Well, I don’t think it’s particularly necessary or gracious to bring up an opponent’s family member if they haven’t already. And I don’t think it was necessary to make his point, which itself was a good one. But I think the Cheneys complaints about it seem incredibly shallow given that they didn’t seem to have a problem when the Presidential candidate on their ticket tried to write an ammendment directed against their daughter into the constitution.”

She nodded as if carefully considering what I was saying, and it was clear that she agreed with one part and disagreed with another. And then she said something that blindsided me: “It seemed to me like he really cared about her. It seemed like he really was concerned about what she’s going through and he was trying to understand. And that really impressed me.”

Coming from a woman who couldn’t bring herself the use the word lesbian, they were very moving words to hear. I don’t know what they mean for the struggle for the White House. But in the struggle for legal equality in this country, it’s hard to see them as anything but a good sign which speaks to the desire even among many of the Americans who can’t yet reconcile themselves to other lifestyles to see leaders who respect and understand those who practice them. That is, if we’re swaying the 76 year-old white Pennsylvanian women, we’re on the right track.

Spent the day in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley with a horde of other labor folks from Connecticut and Pennsylvania talking to union members about Bush’s record and Kerry’s vision. It was a real energizing, inspiring time. One woman told me that we need to get Bush out so that we can “give money to working people, not oil rascals.” Another told me that, “My husband and I worked hard our whole lives to be able to retire like this, and I just worry about those young folks looking for work today – where are they going to find jobs? And what are they going to have to retire on? We need a President who understands what it’s like to be a working person.” She shared that she took offense as a Catholic at attempts to tar Kerry as a bad Catholic. “He doesn’t agree with abortion, but he doesn’t think it should be up to the government, and personally I think it’s wrong, but I’m not really in a position to tell those young women what to do. And what about all those men and women and children we’re killing in Iraq?”

And then I came home and got to top the day off by reading this:

With a solid majority of voters concluding that John Kerry outperformed George W. Bush in the first presidential debate on Thursday, the president’s lead in the race for the White House has vanished, according to the latest NEWSWEEK poll. In the first national telephone poll using a fresh sample, NEWSWEEK found the race now statistically tied among all registered voters, 47 percent of whom say they would vote for Kerry and 45 percent for George W. Bush in a three-way race…Four weeks ago the Republican ticket, coming out of a successful convention in New York, enjoyed an 11-point lead over Kerry-Edwards with Bush pulling 52 percent of the vote and the challenger just 41 percent. Among the three-quarters (74 percent) of registered voters who say they watched at least some of Thursday’s debate, 61 percent see Kerry as the clear winner, 19 percent pick Bush as the victor and 16 percent call it a draw. After weeks of being portrayed as a verbose “flip-flopper” by Republicans, Kerry did better than a majority (56 percent) had expected. Only about 11 percent would say the same for the president’s performance while more than one-third (38 percent) said the incumbent actually did worse that they had expected. Thirty-nine percent of Republicans felt their man out-debated the challenger but a full third (33 percent) say they felt Kerry won.

Kerry’s perceived victory may be attributed to the fact that, by a wide margin (62 percent to 26 percent), debate watchers felt the senator came across as more confident than the president. More than half (56 percent) also see Kerry has having a better command of the facts than Bush (37 percent). As a result, the challenger’s favorability ratings (52 percent, versus 40 percent unfavorable) are better than Bush’s, who at 49 percent (and 46 percent unfavorable), has dipped below the halfway mark for the first time since July. Kerry, typically characterized as aloof and out of touch by his opponents, came across as more personally likeable than Bush (47 percent to the president’s 41 percent).