Just when it appeared that President Obama had presumptive Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney on the defensive in the so-called "war on women," the president, vice president, first lady and most of Obama's campaign team were scrambling Thursday to distance themselves from a Democratic strategist who claimed Romney's stay-at-home wife Ann "never worked a day in her life."
Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen's comments about Ann Romney, who raised five sons, snowballed into a Washington-style kerfuffle that left Republicans and Democrats trying to one up each other in proving their love of motherhood.
Whether the episode will fade after its first 24-hour news cycle or linger as an albatross for Obama remains to be seen. But the Romney campaign, long on the defensive over women's issues like abortion and birth control, immediately seized on the opportunity to go on the attack and squeezed Rosen's comments for as much political juice as possible.
Republicans held up Rosen's attack on Ann Romney as nothing less than an assault on motherhood and women who put careers on hold so they can stay home to raise their children.
"Her firm has been paid by the Democratic National Committee, she's been down to the White House 35 times," Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., said in a conference call organized by the Romney campaign. "There's clearly a connection between Rosen and the Obama administration, and she's been involved for many, many years."
The Republican offensive had the White House and the Obama campaign scrambling. The president was diverted from his message of the day, touting the so-called Buffett Rule tax increase on millionaires, and forced instead to deal with the fallout from Rosen.
"My general view is those of us who are in the public life, we're fair game," Obama said in an interview with a local television station. "Our families are civilians. I haven't met Mrs. Romney, but she seems like a very nice woman who is supportive of her family and supportive of her husband. I don't know if she necessarily volunteered for this job so, you know, we don't need to be directing comments at them."
First lady Michelle Obama said on Twitter, "Every mother works hard, and every woman deserves to be respected."
Despite the day-long fury over the episode, some analysts questioned whether it would have a lasting impact on the campaign.
"I don't think it will stick," said Northeastern University journalism professor Alan Schroeder, an expert on presidential communication. "There are so many people now on both sides politically voicing their opinions, and the candidates can't be responsible for what their supporters are saying unless it's an official relationship."
However, Rosen would have been hard pressed to pick a more sympathetic target than stay-at-home moms, and the Romney campaign is banking that voters will associate the rant with Obama if they keep the message alive long enough.
Rosen's apology to Romney's wife did little to appease Republicans, either.
"Let's put the faux 'war against stay at home moms' to rest once and for all," she said. "As a mom I know that raising children is the hardest job there is. Let's declare peace in this phony war and go back to focus on the substance."