But the candidate did not unveil any new policy proposals tailored to women. Instead, speaking at several women-owned businesses with scores of women behind him as a backdrop, Romney hit many of the same themes that he has been for months: what he views as Obama's ineffectual $787-billion government stimulus program, financial regulations that he says have slowed lending and business growth, and a burgeoning deficit that he says has made it difficult for the economy to recover.
At his events, he argued that those policies had harmed women's ability to find well-paying jobs. But during a conference call with reporters, his policy director offered no specific rationale as to how those policies had affected women more than men.
Romney's advisors also faced an embarrassing moment when they could not immediately explain the candidate's position on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which made it easier for women to sue over pay discrimination. Ultimately his advisors said under pressure that he did not favor changes to the act, complicating his efforts to appeal to conservatives, many of whom found the Ledbetter legislation offensive.
With little new material to offer on the policy front, the Romney campaign seemed to gain the most traction by seizing on Rosen's comment that the candidate's wife "never worked a day in her life" — phrasing that sparked outrage among many women.
Though Rosen has no role in the Obama campaign, Romney's female surrogates piled on during a conference call Thursday, asserting that her comment reflected the president's true views on women who stay home to raise children. Rep.Cynthia M. Lummis(R-Wyo.) charged that the Obama campaign was using surrogate women, including Rosen, "to deliver messages about Republicans that the president does not want to deliver himself."
The Obama campaign dismissed the assertions as ludicrous.
The Romney campaign also deployed its most powerful surrogate: Ann Romney. In a Fox News interview, she brushed off Rosen's comments with a laugh and called for "all of us" to "respect the choices that women make."
Disputing Rosen's charge that her husband does not view women as equals, she pointed to the "many women in his circle" who have advised him in his government and business careers.
"Mitt Romney is a person that admires women and listens to them, and I am grateful that he listens to me and listens to what I am telling him, as well as about what women are facing right now," she said. "He's listening and he cares."
The president and his wife also weighed in.
"Every mother works hard, and every woman deserves to be respected," Michelle Obama said via Twitter.
"There is no tougher job than being a mom," the president said later during a White House interview with an Iowa television station.
Times staff writers Michael Finnegan and Kathleen Hennessey contributed to this report.
This article first appeared at latimes.com