What happened
Gender took center stage in the Democratic presidential campaign in recent days as Sen. Hillary Clinton responded to increasingly heated criticism from her six male rivals. Sen. Barack Obama said Clinton ran a hardnosed campaign for months, only to say, “Don’t pick on me” as soon as the other candidates started challenging her politics. Clinton accused the other candidates of “pile-on politics” after they sharply criticized her in last week’s debate, but she said they weren’t picking on her because she’s a woman. “They’re picking on me because I’m winning,” she said.

What the commentators said
This was bound to happen, said Adam Nagourney and Patrick Healy in The New York Times (free registration). “Clinton denies playing the gender card,” but she hasn’t been shy about invoking her sex and the prospect of the election of the first female president to “energize” women voters.

Being a woman used to be a “liability” for a presidential candidate, said Clarence Page in the Chicago Tribune. Clinton has managed to turn “her gender into a gem of an asset.” But she may soon regret playing the “pile-on” card so quickly. Clinton spent months proving her toughness, and she’s thrown all that effort away simply to change the subject after “one bad debate.”

“Sorry,” said Kathleen Parker in The Orlando Sentinel, “but when girls insist on playing hardball with the boys, they don't get to cry foul.” Clinton could have handled every criticism the other candidates fired her way if she had been willing to talk straight, instead of resorting to Clintonian dodging. “Hillary can handle the men just fine. What's giving her problems is Hillary.”

The "almost anti-feminist subtext" of Clinton's "'pile-on' theme" was "disappointing," said Ruth Marcus in The Washington Post (free registration).