(WASHINGTON) — Less than 24 hours after Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen mocked Ann Romney for having “never worked a day in her life,” Rosen apologized to Romney on Thursday for her “poorly chosen” words and aimed to “put the faux ‘war against stay at home moms’ to rest once and for all.”
“I apologize to Ann Romney and anyone else who was offended,” Rosen said in a statement. “Let’s declare peace in this phony war and go back to focus on the substance.”
As the general election revs into full force, women’s issues and the “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 Rosen’s remarks Tuesday pushed policy prescriptions to the back seat as leaders of both parties focused squarely on her personal attack.
While Rosen sought to refocus the debate on whether Romney has “a vision for bringing women up economically,” she did not back off her comments earlier Thursday.
“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,” Rosen said on CNN. “This isn’t about whether Ann Romney or I work, other women of some means can afford to make a choice to stay at home and raise kids. Most women in America, let’s face it, don’t have that choice.”
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 than working mothers 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 children 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 today 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.
White House spokesman Jay Carney refuted the claim that Rosen was a frequent visitor at the White House.
“I do not know how many times she’s been here,” Carney said Wednesday at the daily press briefing. “I have not seen her here very recently.”
Carney said he personally knows three people named Hilary Rosen, and is “not sure” if the White House records showing her visits “represent the person we’re talking about.”
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who was on the RNC call call with Lummis condemning Rosen’s remarks, emphasized Rosen’s role as a “President Obama adviser” and “DNC strategist,” descriptions that a Democratic National Committee official has also denied.
DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida condemned Rosen’s remarks via Twitter today, 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 they were “insulting and insensitive.”
“To suggest that any mother has ‘never worked a day in her life,’ is an affront to mothers everywhere,” RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said Wednesday in a statement.
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.”
While Obama is currently leading among all women voters, ABC contributor Cokie Roberts points out that married women voted Republican when George W. Bush headed the ticket. Those married women, many of which are mothers, could be a vital part of a winning coalition come November.
“The reason the Obama camp is reacting so vigorously is that those women are up for grabs, unlike single women who form a solid Democratic bloc,” Roberts said.
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 News-Washington Post poll released this week shows that Obama 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.
“The real war on women is being waged by the president’s failed economic policies,” Romney said at rally in Connecticut Tuesday. “His failures have hurt women.”
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