THE NOTE: Clinton Plays Gender Card

A moment of silence, please, for Invincible Hillary. She left us at 11 am ET yesterday, in Wellesley, Mass., a victim of her own hand. She was 10 months old. She is survived by Victim Hillary.

"In so many ways this all women's college prepared me to compete in the all-boys club of presidential politics," Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., said yesterday at her alma mater, Wellesley College.

This from the frontrunner, the wire-to-wire leader, the choice of the Democratic establishment, the candidate of strength, determination, experience. In the context of her poor debate performance, with all her (male) rivals sensing an opportunity to chip away at her 30-point lead, this is called playing the gender card.

The campaign is raising money on the six-on-one from Tuesday's Democratic debate. But Clinton is also seeking to raise sympathies from (particularly female) voters based on the increasingly aggressive tack taken by her rivals.

"Clinton essentially hid behind her pantsuit in response to a public shellacking," AP's Ron Fournier writes in his "On Deadline" column, noting that Clinton "is no stranger to 'piling on' " herself in playing the aggressor in political combat.

Fournier: "Clinton's advisers, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss internal matters, said there is a clear and long-planned strategy to fend off attacks by accusing her male rivals of gathering against her. The idea is to change the subject while making Clinton a sympathetic figure, especially among female voters who often feel outnumbered and bullied on the job."

Maybe the strategy works (roll out the Rick Lazio footage -- and at least she's not talking about campaign equivocations now). Yesterday marked an "emotional return" by Clinton, and she used her first full day on the trail after Tuesday's debate "to set out on an ambitious drive to attract more women to what she is underscoring as her historic candidacy," Elisabeth Bumiller writes in The New York Times. Said Clinton: "We're ready to shatter that highest glass ceiling."

"The largely dormant issue of Senator Clinton's gender is moving to the fore in the presidential contest," Josh Gerstein writes for the New York Sun. EMILY's List is set to jump into the race on Clinton's behalf, and her latest fundraising appeal is soaked in gender politics. Writes campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle, in a fundraising e-mail: "She is one strong woman. She came through it well. But Hillary's going to need your help."

But Clinton's candidacy has always been about far more than being the first woman to launch a viable presidential candidacy. She's wanted us to view her as tougher than the other candidates in the race, the candidate equipped to handle the challenges of the job on Day One. She's been the candidate who's ready to "deck" her critics (and remember who dealt the first blow after Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., said he'd meet with leaders of rogue nations?).

Said Obama yesterday, referring to his disagreements with Clinton on Iran: "I fear no man" -- pause -- "or woman." "She authorized war and then recently starting voting on this Iran resolution. The drums of war are beating again. You can't be fooled twice," Obama said, ABC's Sunlen Miller reports.

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