Salena Zito

As the White House scrambled Thursday to prevent "mommy wars" damage done by a Democratic advisor, one expert cautioned that politicians need to learn to communicate with women voters, who factor strongly in this presidential election.

"Most of the attention paid to them has been superficial, rather than substantive," Catherine Wilson, a Villanova University professor specializing in how women affect politics, said as Twitter chatter carried on the argument of whether a stay-at-home mother works as hard as a career woman.

Since 1980, more women have voted in presidential elections than men, said Sara Grove, another expert on women voters at Shippensburg University.

Democratic leaders backed away from consultant Hilary Rosen for disparaging Ann Romney, wife of presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, in a CNN interview as someone who "actually never worked a day in her life." Bowing to pressure midday, Rosen issued a statement of apology acknowledging "poorly chosen" words.

President Obama told an Iowa television station that families are off limits in campaigns.

"I don't have a lot of patience for commentary about the spouses of political candidates," Obama said. "Those of us who are in the public life, we're fair game. Our families are civilians."

Ann Romney in January told the Tribune-Review that raising five boys as a homemaker while her husband pursued his business and political careers was "a tough job."

"It is a tough job. There was nothing easy about it and those boys were always getting into some sort of mischief," she said in the interview with son Tag, daughter-in-law Jennifer, three grandchildren and her husband. "Having said that, I wouldn`t have changed one moment of it. It was remarkable."

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, in its databook Women in the Labor Force, counted 32.6 million women with children under age 18 in March 2010, the latest statistics available. About 71 percent were either employed (65 percent) or actively looking for work (6 percent) and the remaining 29 percent were not in the labor force.

Sean Trende, a political analyst for Real Clear Politics, said Gallup polling finds women care more about health care, gas prices and unemployment than they do about issues such as government policies on birth control. Recent polls show Obama leading Romney among registered women voters, though Obama's job approval rating from women has fallen from 70 percent when he took office to 49 percent, Trende said.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.