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Lilly Ledbetter, Ann Romney, and the war for women voters

The war over women voters again took center-stage on Morning Joe Thursday.

The war over women voters again took center-stage on Morning Joe Thursday. Mika Brzezinski noted that on a conference call with reporters yesterday, Mitt Romney’s team was unable to say whether Romney supports the Lilly Ledbetter Act – a landmark 2009 law championed by President Obama that makes it easier for women to sue employers who pay them less than their male counterparts.

“We’ll get back to you on that,” a Romney spokesman said.

That didn’t exactly give the impression that the campaign had done their homework on the subject. “They held the conference call to address women’s issues,” said New York magazine’s John Heilemann. “And then didn’t have an answer to a very basic question, which seems to me a little bit … inept.”

Brzezinski noted that later in the day, the Romney campaign confirmed that it does support “pay equity.” In fact though, on the bill itself, the campaign said only that it wasn’t looking to change current law. Asked whether Romney would sign a bill that overturned the law, it didn’t respond.

But Democratic efforts to capitalize on the Romney camp’s confusion might be derailed by a comment from an Obama supporter. Hillary Rosen, a Democratic public relations maven, said on CNN Wednesday that Ann Romney isn’t a good spokesperson on women’s issues because she’s “never actually worked a day in her life.”

The Romney camp seized on the opening. Ann Romney, a stay-at-home mother, tweeted in response: “I made a choice to stay home and raise 5 boys. Believe me it was hard work.”

Obama's campaign has condemned the comment and called on Rosen to apologize. But Team Romney is trying to stoke the controversy, even scheduling a conference call with reporters for this morning to keep Rosen’s comments in the news.

Still, with polls showing Obama leading by 18 points or more among women, there's no doubt that Romney is playing catch-up. And Heilemann argued that he's already missed some chances to separate himself from the extreme-sounding language that some in the GOP adopted on women’s issues during the nomination campaign.

“The shame for Romney is that he didn’t take more opportunities to distance himself from some of the crazy-train rhetoric in his party,” said Heilemann. “He had a lot of chances to distance himself from Rick Santorum. There were a lot of issues that came up – whether it was on Rush Limbaugh and the Sandra Fluke story, or various things that Santorum said -- that instead of saying no, Romney either tacitly or explicitly agreed with some of those positions.”

“He had a lot of missed opportunities during this primary for him to put himself in a better position with women,” Heilemann concluded.