Sen. Clinton denied that she had tried to play what pundits have called the "gender card" since an earlier Democratic presidential debate.
(CNN) - The Democratic frontrunner for the presidential nomination Thursday night swiftly rejected accusations that she may have been "exploiting gender as a political issue" through recent remarks about running for the presidency as a woman.
"I am not exploiting anything at all," Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York declared at the debate.
"I'm not playing, as some people say, the gender card here in Las Vegas, I'm just trying to play the winning card. I understand very well that people are not attacking me because I'm a woman. They're attacking me because I'm ahead."
The remarks drew applause throughout the room.
When pressed about her recent remark at her alma mater, Wellesley College, about how the school helped prepare her for the "all boys' club of presidential politics," Clinton responded, "It is clear, I think, from women's experiences, that from time to time, there may be some impediments. And it has been my goal, over the course of my lifetime, to be part of this great movement of progress that includes all of us but has particularly been significant to me as a woman."
She noted that while she is aiming "toward the highest, hardest glass ceiling," she is not "running because I'm a woman. I'm running because I think I'm the best qualified and experienced person to hit the ground running."
Clinton added that as she travels the country campaigning, some older women tell her they were born before a woman could vote and add, "I want to live long enough to see a woman in the White House."
Asked whether any of them believe Clinton is playing a gender card, none of the other candidates on stage seemed to jump at the chance. Since former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina was given the floor, he spoke only generally, saying, "I think that every single candidate on this stage should be held to exactly the same standard" and that voters should understand the differences.
Related video: The gender issue
– CNN's Josh Levs