Taking to the social media Web site Twitter, where the gaffe had grown into a firestorm, top Obama campaign officials scrambled to distance themselves from the comments on CNN by Hilary Rosen, a political and public relations consultant who is a business associate of former White House communications director Anita Dunn.
Even first lady Michelle Obama weighed in on Twitter, writing: “Every mother works hard, and every woman deserves to be respected. –mo.”
Mitt Romney’s campaign, which is struggling to close a double-digit deficit with female voters, seized upon the comment. It evoked a decades-old debate — once dubbed the “Mommy Wars” — about whether mothers who can afford to stay home should work outside it.
Within two hours of Rosen’s comment, Ann Romney had issued her first tweet ever: “I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work.”
The Romney campaign also organized a conference call in which some of its prominent female backers used Rosen’s comments as an opening to denounce the president.
“This administration would do well to stop disrespecting stay-at-home moms and listen to them,” said Penny Nance, president of the conservative organization Concerned Women for America. But when pressed by reporters for examples of the president or his administration showing disrespect for mothers who work at home, the Romney surrogates did not provide any specific examples.
Rosen made several attempts to defend her comments on Twitter, saying that she admired Ann Romney but was trying to point out that the candidate’s wife — often cited by Mitt Romney as his sounding board on women’s concerns — has not experienced the economic struggles that many working mothers face.
Later, Rosen apologized in a statement, in which she said: “As a mom I know that raising children is the hardest job there is. As a pundit, I know my words on CNN last night were poorly chosen.”
The contretemps knocked the White House off-message on a day that it had hoped to devote to the economy, and specifically to pushing the idea of raising taxes on millionaires.
The president had scheduled a series of interviews with local television outlets in swing states to push the proposal, but he also had to address Rosen’s comments.
“There’s no tougher job than being a mom. When I think about what Michelle had to do, when I think about my own mom, a single mom who raised me and my sister — that’s work,” Obama told the ABC affiliate in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “Anyone who would argue otherwise probably needs to rethink their statement. More broadly, I don’t have a lot of patience for commentary about spouses of political candidates.”