Gillibrand goes up against Michele Bachmann, with the ‘women’ debate back on more familiar territory

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Hilary Rosen stayed home this weekend, while Democratic and Republican female officials continued the argument she started.

It wasn't all about Ann Romney—who Rosen, a Democratic consultant and pundit, had said "never worked a day in her life"—but nearly all the Sunday shows focused their conversations on women, at least ostensibly, with both sides using the debate as a very loose frame for some of their usual talking points, and some new ones.

In Rosen's absence, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand drew a marquee spot on "Meet the Press," setting up a sort of working-mom debate with Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann. Bachmann made her five (plus) kids a big part of her brief presidential run, and Gillibrand made her two kids a key part of her political profile in her earliest days as a senator.

The show debuted a new graphic that read "GENDER POLITICS: 2012 Battleground," for the occasion, and even included a vintage clip of Hillary Clinton's comments about being a working mother in 1992.

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Echoing the defensive remarks from the White House following Rosen's remarks last week, Gillibrand said Rosen's remarks were "wrong" and "inappropriate," and that it was a tough job being a mother.

"But this election is not going to be about Ann Romney or Hilary's remarks," she said. "What this election is going to be about is which candidate fights for America's women. Which candidate actually cares about women's economic opportunity?"

Gillibrand said President Obama's concern for women was evident, not just in his support for contraception, but in policies like freeing up access to credit and the preservation of Pell grants, and in the first bill he signed, which helped guarantee equal pay for women.

"Mitt Romney, his hero is the governor from Wisconsin who just got rid of the equal pay laws there," she said. 

Bachmann made her case broadly, in the opposite direction, calling the president a "health care dictator" who had driven up premiums and gas prices and restricted access to credit, before settling on an overall point about Romney's economic smarts, while Gillibrand looked on with a politely amused smile.

"I think one thing that women are saying is that Mitt Romney is an extremely smart guy," Bachmann said in something of a non sequitur, adding, "The United States government needs to have a turnaround person who knows how to be successful. Not only has Mitt Romney proved how smart he is on job creation, he has a very optimistic message also. That's why I think women are trusting him when he speaks."

Bachmann said she was still "seriously looking" at endorsing Romney.

On CNN's "State of the Union," Representative Carolyn Maloney played the Gillibrand role, with Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington as a more Romney-enthusiastic version of Bachmann.

"When you look at the Republican initiatives not only on the federal level but in the state houses across this country, their attempts to roll back and assault the rights and programs and services of women is absolutely stunning in its scope and appalling in its indifference to women," Maloney said. "And to pretend that that does not exist is to double down on that indifference to women."

But Maloney didn't get much of a chance. Host Candy Crowley seemed bored by the debate from the outset, and turned to the war in Afghanistan and the Secret Service prostitution news after just three minutes of talking about women.

Still, Maloney did her best to bring it back around when Crowley thanked her guests.

"And thank you," Maloney said with a smile, "for not having to ask the question, 'Where are the women?'"

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