Hilary Rosen's comments that Ann Romney had “never” worked outside the home triggered a new round in the culture wars and provided an opening for Republicans to close a gender gap between Mitt Romney and President Obama.
Both parties seemed to sense that the veteran Democratic strategist’s criticism of the stay-at-home mom could be a game-changer in the fight for female voters.
"Look, I know what it's like to struggle," Ann Romney said on Fox News.
"Maybe I haven't struggled as much financially as much as some people have,” said Ann Romney, who has battled breast cancer and multiple sclerosis. “I can tell you and promise you that I have had struggles in my life.”
Ann Romney, who has emerged as a strength of her husband’s campaign, then defended the presumptive GOP presidential nominee.
"I would love to have people understand that Mitt and I have compassion for people who are struggling, and that's why we're running," she continued.
She also defended her husband's respect for women and his record of female advisers.
“You should see how many women he listens to. And that's what I love about Mitt. He has so many women in his circles,” she said.
Obama has opened up a 19 percentage point lead over Romney among female voters, according to some polls, and Romney’s campaign this week has been doing everything it can to try to close the gap.
Rosen’s remarks on CNN Wednesday night, in that context, were a gift.
The strategist said Romney should not cite his wife as an influence on his economic policies toward women because Ann Romney — a mother of five — has “never worked a day in her life.”
Rosen initially showed few signs of backing down on Thursday. On Twitter, Rosen responded to becoming part of the latest campaign controversy by tweeting, "Bring it on!" But under heavy fire from her own party, Rosen issued a statement of apology to Ann Romney later in the day.
"I apologize to Ann Romney and anyone else who was offended," Rosen said in the statement. "Let's declare peace in this phony war and go back to focus on the substance."
Earlier on Thursday, Rosen had sought to distance her argument from Ann Romney as a person. Instead, she blamed Mitt Romney for bringing his wife into the political debate as "his economic surrogate."
According to Rosen, Romney has avoided questions on the campaign trail about his support among women by referring to his wife, saying Ann's interaction with female voters indicates their top concerns are the same economic issues he has consistently prioritized in his campaign strategy.
"This isn't about whether Ann Romney or I or other women of means can afford to make a choice to stay home and raise kids," she told CNN. "Most women in America, let's face it, don't have that choice."
In a column for the Huffington Post, Rosen said Ann Romney is the wrong adviser for Mitt Romney on the economy.
"Nothing in Ann Romney's history as we have heard it — hardworking mom she may have been — leads me to believe that Mitt has chosen the right expert to get feedback on this problem he professes to be so concerned about," she wrote.
Rosen also reached out to Ann Romney directly, welcoming the GOP presidential candidate's wife to Twitter and tweeting: "Please know, I admire you. But your husband shouldn't say you are his expert on women and the economy."
Obama's campaign manager Jim Messina called on Rosen to apologize for her Wednesday remarks, but Rosen dismissed his criticism early in the day.
"Republicans are making a very effective strategic decision today to attack me instead of talking about the issues that have been raised over the past few days," she said on CNN Thursday.
Much of the week's political chatter was a back and forth between Obama and Romney over whose policies are the best for women. Romney's campaign initially appeared to misstep in its approach, taking criticism from Democrats over aides' initial inability to confirm Romney's position on the 2009 Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a significant piece of equal-pay legislation.
But Rosen’s remarks looked likely to change the narrative, something Obama’s top campaign advisers appeared to realize.
Romney’s campaign moved to seize its opportunity, as Ann Romney opened a Twitter account and tweeted: "I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work," she wrote.
Her tweet, a rallying cry for stay-at-home moms, was quickly taken up by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), a Romney supporter and the only female member of the House Republican leadership.
"Wrong. Being a mom is a full-time job," she shot back at Rosen in a tweet.
Josh Romney, one of the Romneys' five sons, also defended his mother on Twitter, tweeting that Ann "is one of the smartest, hardest working woman I know. Could have done anything with her life, chose to raise me."
Ann Romney said on Fox News that she and her husband both "listen" to women on the campaign trail, and that they share as motivation being "compassionate for those who are suffering."
Rosen, whose own Twitter profile describes her as "a mom with opinions," described the ability to choose to stay at home as a "wonderful luxury" in her op-ed for the Huffington Post.
— Posted at 11:45 a.m. and updated at 2:45 p.m.