Oops! Just as President Obama's campaign was enjoying a big favorability advantage with women, a prominent female ally tripped over an old unwritten rule: Lay off your opponent's kinfolk.
Team Obama rushed like a bucket brigade to put out the fires after an on-air gaffe by Hilary Rosen, a Democratic strategist, CNN commentator and friend to many in the Obama White House. Or at least they were friends before she said that Ann Romney, wife of GOP presidential contender Mitt, should not be advising her husband on women's economic concerns since she'd never "worked a day in her life."
Rosen apparently forgot that a more correct description, politically and factually, would be "worked outside her home."
As the backlash hit the fan, Rosen apologized profusely in print and on CNN. Ann Romney responded with grace, wit and intelligence. "I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys," she tweeted on her Twitter account. "Believe me, it was hard work."
Democrats suddenly found themselves on the defensive on a topic they have owned for weeks as they attacked a Republican "war against women." Republicans now came back, charging a war by Obama against moms.
Rosen is not an adviser to Obama, his campaign or the Democratic National Committee. But the Romney campaign was not about to let those inconvenient facts get in the way of a good attack campaign.
Romney surrogates and other supporters used Rosen's remark as evidence that Obama doesn't understand women or value mothers.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., claimed there was "clearly a connection between Rosen and the Obama administration" for many years, reporting that Rosen, an unaligned Democratic strategist, had "visited the White House 35 times." White House press secretary Jay Carney later confirmed that Rosen has visited the White House "on a number of occasions for large events, large meetings having to do with communications, things like that." But a visit doesn't mean that she met with or advised the president.
Nevertheless, Romney's supporters were eager to tie Rosen to Obama, whose people were just as eager to pretend they never heard of her. Obama's top advisers immediately condemned her remarks as "offensive and inappropriate."
First lady Michelle Obama weighed in with a tweet: "Every mother works hard, and every woman deserves to be respected."
It is always hazardous to talk about an opponent's relatives, Rosen surely knows, unless the opponent has made them an issue. Romney did that when he began to refer to his wife, whose ease with crowds makes up for many of her husband's weaknesses, as his adviser on women's concerns.
Rosen's point, which she unfortunately stepped on, was a valid one. Ann Romney undoubtedly worked hard at being a mother, and her children are evidence of her wise parenting. But her experience is far from typical of the pressures most mothers face, whether or not they work outside the home.
Democrats have scored points on issues such as women's health, equal pay, education and day care. Romney needs to do a better job of connecting with the concerns of women who, unlike his wife, don't have "two Cadillacs."
Most American women don't have the options Ann Romney had in deciding whether to work outside her home or stay home with her kids. That's not a knock on her. It's a description of the challenges that her husband and Obama face in connecting with the lives and problems of American women. They make up more than half of the electorate. They need to be heard.