USA TODAY US Edition
Remark causes firestorm over working vs. stay home moms
Both sides blast strategist after remark about Ann Romney
Democratic strategist criticizes Mitt Romney’s wife for not having “worked a day in her life,” fueling debate on Twitter, cable networks.
The presidential campaign exploded Thursday into a bitter debate over women’s work, a day after a Democratic adviser made a dismissive remark about stay-athome mom Ann Romney, wife of the GOP candidate Mitt Romney.
Wednesday night on CNN, Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen said Romney, who raised five now-grown sons, had “never worked a day in her life.” Mitt Romney had said earlier that his wife had relayed to him the economic concerns of women around the country.
Rosen’s comment reignited a mom-culture war that dates back to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 1992 remark that instead of working as a lawyer, she “could have stayed home and baked cookies.” It convulsed the political Twitterverse — both Rosen and Ann Romney were trending topics on the social-networking site — and cable television networks.
The din became so deafening that by Thursday afternoon Rosen had gone back on CNN twice and issued a written apology, but was still the focal point of several Republican fundraising pitches.
“I apologize to Ann Romney and anyone else who was offended,” Rosen said in a statement Thursday. “Let’s declare peace in this phony war and go back to focus on the substance.”
The Romney campaign knows a thing or two about the damage an unscripted remark can do — such as his adviser’s saying the strategic shift from primaries to the general election would be akin to an Etch A Sketch. So does the Obama campaign, scorched by its candidate’s 2008 comments about people who “cling to guns or religion.”
This time the power of rapid response was on Romney’s side.
Soon after Rosen’s comments on CNN, Ann Romney had set up a Twitter account and in less than 140 characters put Democrats on the defensive on women’s issues, a topic they have owned for the past few months. “I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys,” she tweeted. “Believe me, it was hard work.”
On a conference call Thursday, several female Romney surrogates sounded off about Rosen’s comments and played up Rosen’s connections to the White House.
“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, R-N.H.
President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz all condemned Rosen’s remark. Even so, Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-wyo., held the White House responsible, saying she doubted Rosen was “freelancing.”
“Clearly they’re using surrogate women, including Hilary Rosen, who is a paid spokesperson, to deliver messages about Republicans that the presi- dent does not want to deliver himself for fear of the backlash,” Lummis said.
For Democrats, Rosen’s comments were particularly ill-timed as they hit during a week when the political dialogue has been focused on women. Polls have shown that heading into the November general election, Obama has a strong lead over Romney among female voters. Democrats believed they gained an advantage during a recent fight over health insurance coverage for contraceptives.
While Lummis and other Republicans repeatedly charged that Rosen worked with the DNC, citing a February Wall Street Journal article, the DNC said its contract with Rosen’s communications firm, Skdknickerbocker, was only for the services of consultant Anita Dunn.
Rosen “has no role here,” said Brad Woodhouse, a spokesman for the DNC. “Hilary is with CNN and is contractually prohibited from having a role here.”
Ann Romney made a rare interview appearance on Fox News to stoke the controversy. “Mitt said to me more times than you would imagine, ‘Ann, your job is more important than mine . . . your job is a forever job that is going to bring forever happiness.’ ”
To Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, which supports candidates who oppose abortion and endorsed Romney on Thursday, Rosen’s comment is one of “a thousand cuts” that will alienate women. “Each cut doesn’t necessarily draw blood, but over a long period of time’’ it will hurt Democratic candidates with female voters, she said.
Kiki Mclean, a former adviser to Hillary Rodham Clinton, put the blame on the Romney campaign, saying they were engaged in “a moment of cheap behavior to try to divide and separate women.”
Jennifer Lawless of the American University Women in Politics Institute, said candidates are always trying to find “ways to tap into the question of what women are looking for, because women decide elections.”
And former first lady Barbara Bush seemed to seek peace in a Fox News interview, saying, “Women who stay home are wonderful. Women who work are wonderful. Whatever.’’