The wife of former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney told CNN that she was upset about the lack of reaction to Democratic gubernatorial challenger Vincent Sheheen accidentally using an offensive word when talking about Republican Gov. Nikki Haley last week.
"When I first heard about it, it hit me right in my gut," Ann Romney told CNN. "My nerve endings went haywire. It's so upsetting when you know someone can say something like that about a woman, and not have any kind of reaction. It's so unacceptable. Nikki is a great girl and has been a great governor."
Haley endorsed and campaigned for Mitt Romney in the 2012 GOP presidential primary. She also spoke at the Republican National Convention when the former Massachusetts governor was formally nominated.
Sheheen, a state senator from Camden, was speaking at a Florence campaign stop on Thursday when he made his verbal slip.
"We are going to escort whore out the door," Sheheen says in a video posted by the (Florence) Morning News.
Sheheen immediately corrects himself: "We're going to escort her out the door."
The crowd laughs and Sheheen grins. (Watch the video)
Sheheen apologized Monday on a Charleston radio show, though he and his backers say he did not use the offensive word.
"But if anybody heard, and certainly my words were garbled I apologize because I don’t want to send that message to anybody," the senator said.
Ann Romney, whose husband has not decided on another White House bid, told CNN that she spoke Haley about Sheheen's verbal mishap. She said reaction to Sheheen's remark would be different if the political parties of those involved were reversed.
"We need to make sure we have a safe place so that other women can feel like they can do this and these kinds of things aren't going to happen to them," Ann Romney said in the interview. "You get so sick of saying there is bias out there, but if a Republican had said this, it would be blowing up in their face like nobody's business. Where is EMILY's List? Where is N.O.W.? Where are they?"
Sheheen told The State Tuesday that in speaking several times a day, his “words get garbled often. ... I did what I think any person who garbled their words does – you correct yourself and make clear what you're saying.”
Asked whether he would change anything about his reaction if he had the chance, Sheheen said, "I don't have a time machine, so I don't go back and second guess what's going on.”
Sheheen said the concern is misplaced.
“If I had a time machine, I would go save children at the Department of Social Services who died because Nikki Haley was covering up what happened," Sheheen continued.
"It's amazing that people want to talk about the mispronunciation of a word when literally kids are being killed and murdered."
Sheheen has made turmoil at the state's child-welfare agency – one of Haley’s cabinet agencies – central to his campaign.
The agency has been under investigation by a state auditing agency and a state Senate panel after lawmakers raised questions about the deaths of children under Social Services’ care.
An audit published this month found that caseloads were excessively high for most child-welfare workers, hampering the agency’s ability to investigate abuse and neglect cases appropriately.
Haley said recently in an interview with The State that she did not realize caseloads were too high until after the agency’s director and Haley-appointee Lillian Koller resigned.
Sheheen allies said the Haley camp is creating a controversy out of an unintentional incident.
"I think the story and the CNN coverage is pretty clear –– Sen. Sheheen garbled his words, and he has already apologized for it," S.C. Democratic party spokeswoman Kristin Sosanie said. "He's focused on talking about his vision for the future of South Carolina, while the other side continues to manufacture outrage."
Haley has led Sheheen in the polls during the rematch of their 2010 race that the governor won by 4.5 percentage points.