WASHINGTON – Barack Obama mocked Hillary Rodham Clinton Friday for playing the gender card – accusing her of crying “don’t pick on me” after her first major campaign setback.

In a TV interview, Obama ridiculed Clinton for invoking her sex as a political liability – saying he won’t use his race as a shield and Clinton isn’t fit to be president if she hides behind gender every time she’s attacked.

“I am assuming and I hope that Sen. Clinton wants to be treated like everybody else,” the Illinois senator told host Matt Lauer on NBC’s “Today” show early Friday.

Obama scoffed at Clinton’s complaint Thursday that she was being forced to “compete in the all-boys’ club” of presidential politics.

“When we had a debate back in Iowa a while back, we spent, I think, the first 15 minutes of the debate hitting me on various foreign policy issues. And I didn’t come out and say: “Look, I’m being hit on because I look different from the rest of the folks on the stage,”‘ he said.

“We’re not running for the president of the city council. We’re running for the presidency of the United States.”

The Clinton camp didn’t immediately respond.

Clinton and her aides began playing the gender card shortly after her shaky performance at Tuesday’s night Democratic debate in Philadelphia.

In a fundraising e-mail to supporters Thursday, Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle struck the same theme, calling her boss “one strong woman,” and charging opponents with attacking her “six against one” at the debate. Clinton pollster Mark Penn is predicting a backlash against Obama and Edwards among female voters, who make up nearly 60 percent of the Democratic primary electorate.

It isn’t the first time she has invoked her sex as a political liability. Last month, Clinton argued that Iowa was “a special burden” to her campaign because it had never elected a woman senator, governor or member of Congress.

Obama said such arguments belie Clinton’s claims that she’s the toughest, and hence most electable, Democrat.

“It doesn’t make sense for her, after having run that way for eight months, the first time that people start challenging her point of view, that suddenly she backs off and says: “Don’t pick on me,’ ” he said.

“That is not obviously how we would expect her to operate if she were president.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.