Democratic pundit Hilary Rosen has given the Republicans at least a temporary lift in the battle over the women's vote, says influential pollster Frank Luntz.
"What she said is an insult to millions of American women," Luntz told me, adding that even though Rosen apologized, the damage had already been done because many stay-at-home moms were offended.
Rosen caused a firestorm when she told CNN that Ann Romney, the wife of Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, isn't qualified to speak for American women because she "hasn't worked a day in her life."
Mrs. Romney quickly responded that she chose to raise her five sons full-time, and that was hard work.
President Obama's campaign manager Jim Messina and chief strategist David Axelrod condemned Rosen's remarks and she eventually backed off, saying her words had been poorly chosen. Obama joined the chorus Thursday and disavowed Rosen's comments.
Beyond the immediate uproar, the question women voters are asking themselves as they assess the presidential race is an economic one, Luntz says: "Are our lives easier or more difficlt over the last three our four years" under President Obama?
Luntz, a respected public opinion analyst with strong ties to congressional Republicans and increasingly an adviser to corporate clients, says that, overall, Americans want their president to "understand the challenges facing the average American, and on that attribute Obama has a tremendous advantage."
The best option for Mitt Romney is to emphasize his competence. "People see Romney as a problem solver but they don't see him as a guy with a heart." Luntz told me. "He is the ultimate fixer. You bring him in to fix what's gone wrong and then he gets out of your way."
"Bill Clinton helped you live with your problem. Obama helps you forget your problem. Romney helps you fix your problem," Luntz says.
He adds that Romney needs to show that he understands the lives of everyday people "and as of now, he has not succeeded in doing that....He needs to turn competence into an asset."
Romney should "move away from the social issues that the public found very divisive and toward the economic issues that most people care about."
Americans are in a sour mood. "The public feels that every institution has failed. They have no confidence in any institution or individual," except for the military, Luntz says.