Michelle Obama and Ann Romney both demanded respect for stay-at-home Moms Thursday, stepping into a row over the role of women which has got the nascent White House race off to an explosive start.
Romney took to cable television to respond to a Democratic pundit who said on CNN that she, as wife of the multi-millionaire Republican candidate Mitt Romney and mother of five boys, had "never worked a day in her life."
"My career choice was to be a mother. I think all of us need to know that we need to respect choices that women make," said Romney on Fox News, after the row had rumbled overnight between the two campaigns on Twitter.
"Every mother works hard, and every woman deserves to be respected," Obama tweeted, followed by the initials "- mo" which designated that she, and not a campaign aide wrote the tweet herself.
The spat underscored the already high intensity of the general election campaign, which opened for real this week, and the importance the Romney camp places in fixing President Obama's advantage among women voters.
Ann Romney, who lives with multiple sclerosis, is a frequent presence at her husband's side and introduces him at events, but the assured appearance on Fox was her most direct intervention in the campaign so far.
Women, who represent about 53 percent of the US electorate, backed Obama 56-43 percent over John McCain in the 2008 election, and a recent poll found that among women voters, Obama led Romney 54-36 percent.
In her Fox interview, Ann Romney sought to broaden the spat from one about her personal life into a wider critique of the Obama administration's record on the economy -- the central theme of the election.
"I want to tell you what women are telling me ... guess what women are talking about, and I don't care if they are stay-at-home Moms, or they are working mothers, or grandmothers, guess what they are all talking about?
"They are talking about jobs, and they are talking about the legacy of debt that we are leaving our children. That's what I'm hearing."
The exchanges also reflected the fact that White House campaigns are grueling daily, even hourly battles to control the messaging and news agenda, a process sent into warp speed by social media.
Even before Michelle Obama tweeted, the Obama campaign quickly recognized the need to tamp down the row, which is distracting from its attempts to frame Romney as a political flip-flopper who is keener to enrich the wealthy than help the middle classes.
"I could not disagree with Hilary Rosen any more strongly. Her comments were wrong and family should be off limits. She should apologize," said Obama campaign supremo Jim Messina on Twitter on Wednesday night.
Obama's political guru David Axelrod also weighed in on the social media platform, tweeting: "Also Disappointed in Hilary Rosen's comments about Ann Romney. They were inappropriate and offensive."
Democratic National Committee Executive Director Patrick Gaspard, meanwhile, paid tribute to Ann Romney, saying "she has made some tough choices in her life, I am certain. Families should be absolutely out of bounds in this discussion," he said on MSNBC.
On Wednesday, the Romney team claimed that women account for 92.3 percent of jobs lost under Obama.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics confirmed the figure, but cautioned that overall job figure changes were not as dramatic as the number suggested.
"This is a mirror image of what happened in the earlier time period" at the beginning of the recession, when men lost far more jobs than women, bureau press officer Gary Steinberg told AFP.
Source: AFP American Edition