WASHINGTON – Ann Romney is fighting back after a Democratic consultant suggested the wife of wealthy Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney shouldn't be talking about the economy's toll on women.
"Guess what, his wife has actually never worked a day in her life," said consultant Hilary Rosen on CNN.
The remark inspired Ann Romney's debut on Twitter.
"I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys," she wrote. "Believe me, it was hard work."
The exchange sparked a spat by tweet, with President Barack Obama's advisers taking the rare step of siding with the spouse of his likely Republican opponent and demanding an apology from Rosen, who as of Thursday morning had not backed off.
"Please know, I admire you," Rosen later tweeted to Ann Romney. "But your husband shouldn't say you are his expert on women and the economy."
Patrick Gaspard, executive director of the Democratic National Committee, sought Thursday to separate the Obama campaign from both Rosen's comments and Rosen herself.
"What she said was absolutely out of bounds," Gaspard said on MSNBC. "Ann Romney is someone who obviously has worked hard to raise five good boys and she's made some tough choices in her life, I'm certain. Families should be absolutely out of bounds in this discussion."
Gaspard said that while Rosen was a smart Democratic strategist, she had no formal role in Obama's re-election campaign.
"Hillary Rosen is absolutely not a paid adviser to the DNC or to the Obama campaign, absolutely not," he said.
The speed of the spat reflects the overriding influence of women voters this election year and the eagerness of both campaigns to avoid alienating any sub group of them, particularly with the presidency and congressional majorities at stake.
Two decades after Hillary Rodham Clinton supposed she could have stayed home and baked cookies rather than have a career, the role of women remains up for intense debate in the nation's political discourse.
Women comprise a majority of voters in presidential election years. Recent polling shows they lean heavily toward Democrats and cite the economy and jobs as their top issues.
Obama and his allies, seeking to rally their most ardent supporters as the economy recovers from recession, have accused Republicans of waging a "war against women" on social and economic policy, from contraception to pay equity.
Ann Romney has been her husband's chief surrogate on women's issues and he has deferred to her when that is the topic of discussion. Only this week has the candidate himself made explicit pitches to women at female-owned small businesses in Delaware and Connecticut.
Romney also mentioned poor single moms during a speech last week, signaling another group he hopes to peel off from Obama's base of supporters.