NEW YORK – Responding to Republican claims that she may be too angry to win national office, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton told an audience Monday to wear such criticism as "a badge of honor" and suggested that gender played a role in the attacks.
Democrats, particularly Democratic woman, who run for public office are "going to draw some unfriendly fire," Clinton said at a breakfast fundraiser hosted by black and Hispanic women supporters. "People will be attacking you instead of your ideas, they may impugn your patriotism, they may even say you're angry."
"If they do that, wear it as a badge of honor, because you know what? There are lots of things that we should be angry and outraged about these days," she said.
She cited, among other things, the federal budget deficit, lobbying scandals in Washington, and the government's slow response in the Hurricane Katrina disaster.
It was the latest volley in a rhetorical back-and-forth between Clinton and leading GOP strategists that began last month, when Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman said Clinton "seems to have a lot of anger" and that American voters tend not to elect angry candidates.
Mehlman pointed to comments Clinton made on Martin Luther King Day, when she called the Bush administration "one of the worst" in history, and compared the Republican-controlled House to a plantation.
Top White House strategist Karl Rove later echoed Mehlman's view, telling a Washington Times reporter in a new book that Clinton could have trouble winning the White House because there is a "brittleness about her."
Clinton, who has not yet said whether she's considering a presidential run in 2008, first called the attacks a diversion from Republican "failures and shortcomings."
Then, last week, she said, "Karl Rove spends a lot of time obsessing about me," suggesting he spends more time thinking about her political future than she does.
Until now, Clinton had not said she considered the criticisms gender-based, although many observers have done so. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd said Republicans are casting Clinton "as an Angry Woman, a she-monster melding images of Medea, the Furies, harpies, a knife-wielding Glenn Close in 'Fatal Attraction."'
Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University, said he agreed with Clinton's assessment but questioned whether she should have said anything.
"I think she's right, but whether or not it was prudent to acknowledge it this way is another thing," Baker said. "I think another politician might have dealt with it more humorously, to defuse its influence."
Republican National Committee spokeswoman Tara Wall declined to address the suggestion that gender played a role in the attacks.
"When you vote to consistently raise people's taxes, vote against common sense judicial nominees and use Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday to divide Americans along racial lines, you're likely to encourage criticism of both your ideas and temperament," she said.