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Fact Check: First Lady debate feisty as “War on Women” turns nasty

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Pundits from across the political landscape are questioning how and why Wednesday’s First Lady debate turned chaotic so quickly, with event organizers scrambling to provide a satisfactory explanation. Sharp verbal exchanges were expected but the “War on Women” soon escalated, leveling a fierce divide between the current First Lady and the woman who aims to replace her.

From cable news to social media, the Michelle Obama/Ann Romney match-up — billed as a “gathering of women, for women” — inadvertently evolved into “90 minutes of pure primetime gold,” said Entertainment Weekly. Ratings for the debate at The Ohio State University are expected to be record-setting.

As goes the age of “any news is good news,” highly connected sources within the Romney camp are “worried, yet pleased” with initial reviews and snap poll internals, while the Obama team expressed concern over the embarrassing nature of how the debate played out.

No question, the wake of public opinion in the final frenetic days leading up to the election has both sides focused on potential fallout in the aftermath, as the husbands continue a battle for the job of president of the United States.

The nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates issued a statement 45 minutes into the contest, expressing disappointment over having been excluded from the event and asking specifically, “who’s idea was it to put a stripper pole between the two candidates?” Executive Director Janet H. Brown added, “had we been involved, there’s a good chance that whomever overlaid sound effects of hissing cats during moments when dialogue became heated, would now be looking for employment elsewhere.”

Ann Romney was declared a slight winner by Fox News and in focus groups hosted by Frank Luntz, CBS and MSNBC, while CNN and Gallup gave the edge to Mrs. Obama. Sexism was the topic at MSNBC, with Rachel Maddow the only member of the panel who didn’t find the swimsuit competition even slightly gratuitous.

“Who you calling a ho, ho?” — generally regarded as one of Mrs. Romney’s sharpest zingers of the night, leaving moderator Barbara Walters little choice but to plea for calm and an end to the hair pulling. From topics ranging from patriotism and school lunches to motherhood, nothing caused more spontaneity and eye-clawing than when Mrs. Obama turned to Romney and posed — in the now famous exchange — “why are you laughing so much? Are you on crack?”

With fashion taking center stage in this competition between the wives — the First Lady wore a grey Thom Browne dress adorned with black lace and traditional pearls. Mrs. Romney wore a green silk taffeta Oscar de la Renta dress with a necklace of matching green beads — Walters was later assailed by left wing bloggers for asking each candidate to judge the other’s outfit.

Mrs. Obama noted her appreciation of the opportunity to debate and hailed Mrs. Romney for “taking a nice break from her usual country club mom style.” Mrs. Romney pointed out the First Lady’s luck in having a large staff to dress her and provide guidance “because I remember your fashion choices prior to entering the White House and, I’ll be honest, those were not good choices.”

A panicked Walters interrupted, adding insult to injury: “Who looked better in pink?” referring to the bright dresses each wore to the second presidential debate. That debate was in October, Breast Cancer Awareness month and a time colored in symbolic pink merchandise.

A gentle exchange launched into Freudian dialogue involving contraception, abortion and rape, with Mrs. Obama echoing her husband’s words on Wednesday’s The Tonight Show.

“Rape is rape, it is a crime,” she said. “You can parse the distinctions about rape as much as you want, but in the end — and that’s sometimes a bad choice of words — it’s still rape. Republicans plan to redefine rape and ban contraception.

“When it comes to abortion, the real fear is, we’re one to two Supreme Court justices away from allowing them to overturn Roe v. Wade. You won’t hear them tell you this is their plan, but it’s true. They say one thing and do the other, it’s yet another case of Romnesia. This is a group of people with beliefs that strive to keep women trapped in a 1950’s lifestyle. Fewer choices, less safe, left to fend for ourselves. No, they won’t abort babies but they will abort a law that allows women that choice. Sorry, that doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Mrs. Romney reminded the First Lady that she and the president support infanticide and she herself had lobbied for partial birth abortion in 2004.

“These are not the values we represent. As women, we’re better than this,” she began. “We’re more than users of contraception, we’re more than your husband’s campaign is willing to suggest. The Obama Administration claims the Republicans are waging a ‘War on Women.’ They give us the ‘Life of Julia,’ a cartoon boasting a fictional woman and her cradle-to-grave reliance on government entitlements. It’s why a 31-year-old Georgetown Law School student wants taxpayers to pay for her birth-control pills. It’s all so patronizing. This is not who we are.

“Women are concerned about pocketbook issues — jobs, spending, taxes, national debt. The Obamas demonize anyone who questions government, this is what the so-called ‘War on Women’ is all about — the myth that women are victims in need of government protection.”

But all this was overshadowed by the constant cat hissing and screeching that played loudly over the public address system, distracting most everyone in the building and sending both candidates scuffling in a nearby fountain. Fights erupted in the audience, there was a 12-minute delay.

“Everyone freaked out when they heard the cat noise,” said audience member and congressional candidate Sheila Barker of Illinois. “Maybe women are programmed to Jerry Springer but I’m sure it pre-dates that, either way, I just started my period so it didn’t take long for me to start throwing punches. It wasn’t pretty.”

It remains unknown, which candidate started the fight. Pool feed cameras that were fixed on the two women had abandoned position in search of the area believed to be where the cats were fighting. In the spin room, both sides claimed the other started it.

Twitter recorded more than 7 million tweets during the 90-minute debate, the majority occurring after the fight began and most were from men. While Mitt Romney attracted female likely voters and independents with his confidence and conviction during the first presidential debate, likely and registered male voters are historically very eager to watch a catfight.

When the debate resumed, the topic of race emerged and a feisty First Lady alleged that Mrs. Romney “wasn’t black.” Mrs. Romney insisted that she never claimed to be but Mrs. Obama noted that the Romneys aren’t to be trusted. “For all we know, she’s lying again. It’s more Romnesia. Third trimester, late-term Romnesia.”

Red meat for conservatives, Mrs. Romney opted not to take the bait, instead pivoting to a defense of actress Stacey Dash ["a woman of color who announced she was voting for Mitt Romney and was mocked, told to die, called an 'Uncle Tom' and a 'house N-word,' by those on the left"], what she described as “the real war on women, against black conservative women or any minority who dares to stray from the Democrat party.”

Romney continued a flurry of jabs, concluding with student boycotts over the administration’s new food guidelines. “While I credit the First Lady for her passion in regard to fighting childhood obesity, her one-size fits all school lunch program is another example of a statist approach to a simpler solution.”

Walters, now flanked by security, waded into these new federal mandates and calorie caps under Michelle Obama’s school lunch program and crafted a question for the First Lady that stressed the reaction of students nationwide throwing out the food, refusing to eat it.

“If it’s a mistake to focus on nutrition and offer kids healthy options and alternatives, that’s just not a serious approach. I’m sure we can all agree on the benefits,” Obama said. “At a time when kids should be focused on studies, learning to fill the jobs of tomorrow, we need to invest in that.

“I’ve already said, in a second term, I’d like to impact the nature of food in grocery stores and better educate families on healthy lifestyles. This is the correct approach. Is it a perfect program? Of course not, but it’s one that’s never been tried before so there are bound to be bumps in the road. A lot of the previous program that Laura Bush had in place put us in a terrible position to start with, so you have to understand what we inherited.”

At this point, several feral cats were introduced to the auditorium and all doors locked. The candidates were later seen mud wrestling in an inflatable pool. Police report 65 arrests and multiple injuries from fingernail-scratching, some life-threatening.

The second of the three First Lady Debates is scheduled for Monday at 9 pm at Bryn Mawr College, outside of Philadelphia, and will focus on kitchen duties, housework and lap dancing.

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