- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2012

The importance of female voters to the 2012 vote came into stark view Thursday as President Obama’s campaign advisers furiously tried to contain the fallout from a prominent Democratic consultant’s comment that Ann Romney, wife of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and the mother of five sons, “never worked a day in her life.”

Obama campaign manager Jim Messina and top campaign strategist David Axelrod moved rapidly to try to quell the narrative about Democrats denigrating stay-at-home moms, distancing the president’s campaign from the remarks of Hilary Rosen, a longtime party activist and an adviser to the Democratic National Committee.

“I could not disagree with Hilary Rosen any more strongly,” Mr. Messina said on his Twitter account. “Her comments were wrong and family should be off-limits. She should apologize.”

Tweeted Mr. Axelrod, “Also Disappointed in Hilary Rosen’s comments about Ann Romney. They were inappropriate and offensive.”

By the end of the day, even President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama had weighed in to defend Mrs. Romney and seek to put as much distance as possible between themselves and Ms. Rosen’s remarks.

“Every mother works hard, and every woman deserves to be respected,” Mrs. Obama said on Twitter.

In an interview with Columbus, Ohio, TV station WCMH, Mr. Obama called Ms. Rosen’s comments “ill-advised.”

“It’s not something I subscribe to,” Mr. Obama said. “My general rule is, you don’t talk about the spouses of elected officials because they’ve got a really tough job. I think they’re off-limits. So on both counts it was the wrong thing to say and I haven’t met Mrs. Romney, but she seems like a wonderful woman and I know she’s devoted her life to her family.”

Mr. Obama’s double-digit lead among female voters is key to his slight lead over Mr. Romney in recent head-to-head polls, and Republicans, led by Mrs. Romney herself, wasted no time in firing back, even as Ms. Rosen offered a personal apology for her remarks. Even before the Rosen-Romney furor, the two parties had accused the other of waging a “war on women.”

The Romney campaign organized a media conference call with conservative female elected officials who said Ms. Rosen’s insult was calculated, and that the Obama administration has been a disaster for women economically.

“It’s insulting that the president’s adviser would dismiss the value of the important and the hard work women do in raising children,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire Republican. “Women have faced massive job losses under this administration and the policies of this president have failed women voters and men, too.”

Rep. Cynthia M. Lummis, Wyoming Republican, said Democrats are “scared about losing women in swing states.” She added that the Obama campaign is using surrogates “to deliver messages about Republicans that the president doesn’t want to deliver himself.”

Mrs. Romney spoke of her battles with cancer and multiple sclerosis, and defended her decision to be a stay-at-home mom.

“My career choice was to be a mother and I think all of us need to know we need to respect choices that women make,” Mrs. Romney said on Fox News. “Other women make choices to have a career and raise a family, which I think Hilary Rosen has actually done herself. I respect that, that’s wonderful. But there are other people that have a choice, and we have to respect women and all those choices that they make.”

Conservatives contended that the furor exposed liberal Democrats’ dismissive attitudes about stay-at-home mothers, reminiscent of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s comment during the 1992 presidential race that instead of choosing a career, “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas.” They also cited a remark by Teresa Heinz Kerry, the wife of Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry, during the 2004 campaign that she didn’t know if first lady Laura Bush ever had “a real job.” Mrs. Bush had worked as a teacher and a librarian.

The White House tried mightily to keep Mr. Obama out of the dispute. Presidential spokesman Jay Carney even said he could not verify reports that Ms. Rosen has visited the Obama White House 35 times, saying that three different women named Hilary Rosen have been known to visit the executive mansion.

When the controversy had raged for nearly 24 hours on the airwaves, Ms. Rosen finally offered an apology to Mrs. Romney after resisting several earlier opportunities to do so.

“I apologize to Ann Romney and anyone else who was offended,” Ms. Rosen said in a statement. “Let’s declare peace in this phony war and go back to focus on the substance.”

Whether the exchange will fade from the campaign debate, both the Obama and Romney camps were trying to expand the episode into a larger statement about which side should receive more support from female voters in the fall election. Mr. Obama won the women’s vote by about 12 percentage points in 2008 over Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

The GOP achieved parity with Democratic candidates among female voters in the 2010 midterm elections. But some recent polls show Mr. Obama leading Mr. Romney by about 20 points among women this year.

Mr. Carney said the president’s jobs bill would provide states with money to rehire 400,000 teachers, most of whom are women.

“Republicans overwhelmingly opposed that provision,” Mr. Carney said.

He added that the GOP budget approved by the House would cut early childhood education programs and result in 700,000 women and children being cut from the nutrition program known as Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

But Ms. Lummis said the unemployment rate for women during Mr. Obama’s presidency has risen from 7 percent in January 2009 to 8.1 percent in March 2012, and Mr. Romney himself has pointed to government jobless numbers that suggest that more than 90 percent of the job losses since Mr. Obama was sworn in were suffered by women.

Said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Washington Republican, “Since President Obama and the Democrats can’t run on the record, which includes the longest streak of high unemployment since the Great Depression, a record increase in the national debt, and near-record gas prices they’re working desperately to change the subject. And that’s why they’ve created this whole ‘war on women’ campaign. It’s really designed to distract women from the real issues.”

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