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'Mommy wars' highlight fierce battle for women voters

April 13, 2012 at 9:19 AM ET

The "mommy wars" are on, and the fierce battle for female voters is keeping the drama going.

At the center of this skirmish: Hilary Rosen, a Democratic strategist, who said of stay-at-home mom Ann Romney Wednesday, "she hasn't worked a day in her life." The comments were made in the context of an argument that as someone who had the choice not to work, Mrs. Romney is unqualified to speak about economic issues facing American women. 

Ann Romney responded with her first-ever tweet. Soon, Twitter was abuzz with criticism over the remarks. The Republican National Committee even started marketing “Moms Do Work!” mugs just in time for Mother’s Day.

“The comments that Hillary Rosen made today certainly have awakened many mama grizzlies across the nation,” Sarah Palin said on Fox News Thursday.

Ann Romney also appeared on the network, saying "we need to respect choices that women make."

This latest flap underscores the high stakes in winning over women voters in this year’s elections. Republicans are deeply aware that they had been lagging among that group. According to a March USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, Obama has a lead of 51% to 42% over Republican front-runner Mitt Romney.  

“Romney is in Bob Dole territory when it comes to the gender gap,” said Georgetown University American government professor Michelle Swers.

Romney often referred to his wife Ann, a stay-at-home mom of five boys and breast cancer survivor who suffers from multiple sclerosis, when talking about women’s issues. 

In a televised apology, Rosen said her comments were meant to underscore that the Romney family, who are millionaires, don’t reflect the “kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing.”

The Obama administration, which has considered Rosen an ally and even invited her to the most recent state dinner, quickly distanced itself from Rosen’s comments.

Rosen cancelled a planned appearance on “Meet the Press” this Sunday.

“Every mother works hard and every woman deserves to be respected,” tweeted First Lady Michelle Obama Thursday. The first lady worked outside the home part-time while raising her daughters until the 2008 campaign.

Vice President Joe Biden called the comments “an outrageous assertion” when asked about the statement by MSNBC’s Ed Schultz on Thursday evening.

"Look, I fought my whole career, and I’m no hero, whether it’s the violence against women act or equal pay my entire career as a senator and as a vice president, to get to one point where my daughter is able to make whatever choice she wants and no one question it," Biden said. "My daughter happens to have a master’s degree, she’s a social worker, she’s getting married and if my daughter wants to be able to say I’m staying home and raising my kids no one should question it."

President Barack Obama weighed in, calling the comment “ill-advised.” He pointed out that his wife has juggled career and childrearing and said of her time on maternity leave, “I promise you that’s work.”

“This debate totally resonates,” said iVillage chief correspondent Kelly Wallace, the mother of two. “It doesn’t get any more emotional, I think, than the mommy wars."

For now, the fervor over the mommy wars has reached a high point. But with a Supreme Court decision on the president’s signature health care mandate due by June, the debate may pivot.

And in the fall general election, Michelle Swers said, "everything will shift to the economy."

More:Ann Romney joins Twitter, defends herself in first dispatch 

Obama: Spouses are 'off-limits' in campaigns

Gillibrand: Contraception debate will cost GOP votes 

Biden calls consultant's quip about Ann Romney 'outrageous' 

Spotlight on spouses: The wives of 2012 feel a familiar glare 

Biden tweets, reveals water gun shenanigans 

First thoughts: The silly season 

TODAY.com political contributor Halimah Abdullah is the site’s woman in Washington and a mom.

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