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Hilary Rosen flap: A campaign gift to Mitt Romney

Hilary Rosen likely gave Mitt Romney a boost among women votes, one that Romney has needed. Will the Hilary Rosen lift last?

By Patricia ZengerleReuters / April 13, 2012

Ann Romney hugs her husband, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at a campaign rally in Schaumburg, Ill. last month. Ann Romney fired back at the comments made by Hilary Rosen, a Democratic consultant who said Mrs. Rmney "actually never worked a day in her life."

(AP Photo/Steven Senne)

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Washington

It began with Hilary Rosen's comment late Wednesday on cable news that seemed to criticize Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, for choosing to stay home and raise their five sons rather than work.

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Thanks to social media, the remark quickly escalated into a fracas over the role of women in American society.

It gave Mitt Romney, the likely Republican nominee for president who is scrambling to improve his ratings among women voters, a chance to reach out to them through his wife. And it sent Democratic President Obama's top campaign staff members - and by Thursday afternoon, the president and first lady - rushing to disavow the pundit's remark.

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Rosen, a Democratic pundit who has advised the Democratic National Committee, said during an interview on CNN that she tried to make the point that Ann Romney, as the wife of a wealthy private equity executive, does not understand many of the economic challenges faced by typical Americans.

But she slipped by saying that Mrs. Romney had "never worked a day in her life."

Mitt Romney's campaign - which saw his ratings among women take a dive as Republican presidential candidates sparred over abortion, contraception and other divisive social issues - seized the moment.

Ann Romney launched her own Twitter account after Rosen's interview, and she used her first-ever tweet to say: "I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work."

That set off alarms among Democrats, who are keen to hold on to Obama's current advantage among women in a Nov. 6 election in which women voters could tip the balance.

"I could not disagree with Hilary Rosen any more strongly. Her comments were wrong and family should be off limits. She should apologize," Obama campaign director Jim Messina tweeted, shortly after Rosen spoke.

David Axelrod, a top adviser to Obama's campaign, also weighed in quickly on Twitter, calling Rosen's comments "inappropriate and offensive."

The president spoke up Thursday afternoon, telling an Iowa television station that "there's no tougher job than being a mom.

"I don't have a lot of patience for commentary about the spouses of political candidates," Obama said during an interview with KCRG-TV in Cedar Rapids. "My general view is those of us who are in the public life, we're fair game. Our families are civilians."

The rapid responses by both candidates' staffs showed the power of social media in shaping a campaign's narrative, and the sensitivity with which both campaigns view their efforts to appeal to women.

Various polls have indicated that Romney leads Obama among male voters, but that Romney trails the president among women by about 20 percentage points.

"This is an obvious ploy by both sides to try and demonstrate that they understand women voters and especially women dealing with families," said Jennifer Lawless, director of American University's Women and Politics Institute.

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