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Published April 13, 2012

Rosen vs. Romney: Anatomy of a controversy

Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Hilary Rosen apologized Thursday to Ann Romney, wife of presumptive GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, for criticizing her choice to be a stay-at-home mother — but not before sparking a political firestorm with her remarks.

WASHINGTON –  Almost from the moment Democratic strategist and CNN commentator Hilary Rosen made her controversial comments about Ann Romney, the story spread like wildfire through Twitter, the Internet and network TV, with rapid-fire reaction that has barely slowed since.

Rosen made her comments Wednesday on CNN at  8:52 p.m. ET , suggesting Romney was the wrong person on husband Mitt Romney’s GOP presidential primary campaign to be addressing women’s issues — considering “she’s never worked a day it her life.”

With a matter of minutes – enough time for the full impact of Rosen’s comments to be absorbed – critics took to Twitter and other social media to respond.

Twitter traffic mentioning Romney spiked from 9 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Wednesday from essentially zero to 3,000 tweets, then soared Thursday morning from less than 1,000 to about 6,800 before leveling off in the afternoon, according to analytic.topsey.com.

The firm reports that Romney-Rosen tweets crush those about Justin Bieber, Twitter’s most popular subject.

Rosen, sensing the firestorm she had touched off, fired off three tweets at about 10 p.m.

“When I said Ann Romney never worked I meant she never had to care for her kids AND earn a paycheck like MOST American women!,” Rosen tweeted at 9:55 p.m.

Two more Rosen tweets followed within 14 minutes, with the first saying she had “nothing against Ann Romney and that she just didn’t want “Mitt using her as an expert on women struggling (with) $ to support their family,” then “Mitt Romney is running for president, not Ann.”

The Romney campaign website posted no tweets in the immediate aftermath, but Ann Romney made her debut on Twitter at 10:18 p.m., saying, “I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work.”

Her son Josh followed with his own, saying his mother “is one of the smartest, hardest working women I know” who “could have done anything with her life, chose to raise me.”

The 64-year-old Romney is a mother of five and grandmother of 16. She has battle cancer and multiple sclerosis.

Top Obama campaign officials were quick to distance the reelection effort from the Rosen comments.

“I could not disagree with Hilary Rosen any more strongly. Her comments were wrong and family should be off limits. She should apologize,” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in a tweet.

Campaign strategist David Axelrod tweeted: “Also Disappointed in Hilary Rosen’s comments about Ann Romney. They were inappropriate and offensive.”

Even first lady Michele Obama commented.

“Every mother works hard, and every woman deserves to be respected,” she tweeted on the reelection site.

Her husband, President Obama, was more direct on TV on Thursday night, saying Rosen’s comments were “ill advised” and that Romney “seems like a wonderful woman.”

Rosen, returned to the CNN airways twice Thursday, finally apologizing on camera.

She said on CNN that she “should not have chosen words that seemed to attack Romney’s choice in life” and that she hoped Romney understands she “didn’t mean it personally.”

Rosen, who has twins with ex-partner Elizabeth Birch, said she was trying to talk about economic issues, then added, “This is going to be an ugly campaign season.”