Authors: Joshua Cohan
(WASHINGTON) -- As the general election revs into full force, women's issues and the so-called "war on women" have taken center stage with President Obama aiming to maintain his substantial lead among women voters and Mitt Romney striving to rekindle support with the all-important female voting bloc.
But policy prescriptions took a back seat to personal attacks this week after Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen blasted Romney's wife, Ann, Tuesday night for having "never worked a day in her life."
"Most women in America, let's face it, don't have that choice," Rosen said, clarifying her remarks on CNN Wednesday morning.
"This is not about Ann Romney, this is about the waitress in a diner in some place in Nevada who has two kids whose day care funding is being cut off because of the Romney-Ryan budget and she doesn't know what to do."
Ann Romney hit back an hour later, telling Fox that her "career choice was to be a mother." She said that whether women chose to work or to stay home and raise children, "we have to respect women in all those choices."
"Mitt respects women that make those different choices," said Romney, who'll be 63 Monday.
About a quarter of U.S. women made the same choice as Ann Romney to make "mother" their job title in 2010. According to the most recent Census data, 23 percent of married women with children younger than 15 were stay-at-home moms.
But most of them were more likely to be Hispanic, foreign born and without a high school diploma, according to Census data for 2007, the most recent year for which such data is available. None of those labels apply to Ann Romney, but the mother of five boys and grandmother of 16 sought to make it clear that her not having to work doesn't mean she has lived a life without difficulties.
"Look, I know what it's like to struggle," Romney said Thursday on Fox, pointing to her battle with breast cancer and multiple sclerosis. "Maybe I haven't struggled as much financially as some other people have, but I can tell you and promise you that I've had struggles in my life."
But it was not the stay-at-home mom comments that bothered Romney as much Rosen's remark Wednesday that Ann Romney "doesn't really see us [women] as equals."
"That does bother me; that is not correct at all," Romney said, adding that as governor, her husband had a female chief of staff and a female lieutenant governor. "He admires women and listens to them and I am grateful that he listens to me."
Michelle Obama added her voice to the debate Wednesday as well, tweeting, "Every mother works hard, and every woman deserves to be respected -mo."
Although the first lady tweeted her support for stay-at-home moms like Romney, the Romney campaign still tried to paint Rosen's comments as a message sent straight from the White House.
"It's hard for me to believe that Hilary Rosen, who has visited the White House 35 times recently and advises on-message, would make remarks like that in a haphazard or freelancing way," Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R- Wy., said on a Romney campaign conference call with reporters.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who was also on the call condemning Rosen's remarks, emphasized Rosen's role as a "President Obama adviser" and "DNC strategist," descriptions that a Democratic National Committee official denied.
DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida condemned Rosen's remarks via Twitter on Thursday, writing "Disappointed in @hilaryr 's comments. As a mother of 3 there's no doubt that raising children is work."
The Republican National Committee had called on Wasserman Schultz to apologize for Rosen's comments, saying Rosen's comments Tuesday were "insulting and insensitive."
Democrats swiftly aimed to distance the party and the president from Rosen's comments Wednesday night as well. Two top Obama campaign advisors tweeted Tuesday night that her comments were "wrong" and "offensive" and Democratic National Committee Executive Director Patrick Gaspard went on MSNBC Wednesday morning to specify that Rosen is "not an adviser to the DNC or the Obama campaign."
Obama campaign manager Jim Messina called for Rosen to apologize, tweeting that "family should be off limits."
As the focus has turned to the general election in the past two weeks, the Obama campaign has come out in full force to support women. The president hosted a White House forum on women and the economy last week and the campaign launched an attack against Romney for his perceived waffling on whether he supports the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which helps women pursue pay discrimination claims.
An ABC-Washington Post poll released this week shows that Obama is far ahead of Romney when it comes to female voters. Women support the president over Romney by a 19-point margin and when asked which candidate voters trust to handle "women's issues," Obama's lead among women grows to a 27-point margin.
Romney has ramped up his efforts to close that gap, filling campaign events with women's groups, sending out email blasts from female politicians and specifically attacking the president's record on women's unemployment.
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