Hillary Rodham Clinton, playing the gender card after a serious campaign stumble, suggested Thursday that she is being singled out as a woman in an otherwise male presidential field.
“In so many ways, this all-women’s college prepared me to compete in the all-boys club of presidential politics,” Sen. Clinton (D-N.Y.) said during a speech at her alma mater Wellesley College in Massachusetts.
In a fundraising e-mail to supporters, campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle struck the same theme, calling her boss “one strong woman” and chiding Clinton’s male opponents for attacking her “six against one” at Tuesday’s debate.
Raising the issue of her sex so early in the campaign is risky for Clinton -- especially since her opponents’ attacks haven’t been explicitly gender-based and Clinton herself has emphasized her own toughness, repeatedly saying she wants no special consideration as a female contender for the nation’s highest office.
Clinton’s remarks were part of a multimedia damage-control blitz that included attempts to target moderator Tim Russert as having been too harsh on her.
Speaking on a conference call with donors Wednesday, Clinton strategist Mark Penn said his polling shows that Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) were already suffering a “backlash” among female voters.
Edwards spokesman Chris Kofinis responded: “All the distractions in the world won’t undo the fact that, on Tuesday night, millions of Americans saw John Edwards speak honestly and directly, while Sen. Clinton once again took multiple positions on multiple issues. Forty-eight hours after the debate, we have lots of excuses.”
At the debate, Clinton appeared to both endorse and oppose the controversial plan of New York’s Democratic governor, Eliot Spitzer, to give driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.
On Wednesday, the campaign issued an unusual clarification, saying she now supports the plan’s concept, without commenting on specifics.
According to the Hill newspaper, which listened in on Wednesday’s call, Penn repeatedly questioned Russert’s interrogation of Clinton on the Spitzer plan, Iran and Social Security.
“The other candidates were asked questions like ‘Is there life in outer space?’ ” said Penn, referring to Russert’s asking Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) if he had ever seen a UFO.