Email controversy dogs Clinton to convention
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The biggest impediment to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBudowsky: Closing message for Democrats Election Countdown: Dems outraise GOP in final stretch | 2018 midterms already most expensive in history | What to watch in second Cruz-O'Rourke debate | Trump raises 0M for reelection | Why Dems fear Avenatti's approach GOP mocks Clinton after minor vehicle collision outside Mendendez campaign event MORE’s run for the White House is the controversy that has dogged her presidential campaign from the start: her use of a private email server as secretary of State.

Republicans have hammered Clinton over the issue, and the persistence has taken a terrible toll on her poll numbers.

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Only 28 percent of Americans view her as honest, according to a CBS News/New York Times poll earlier this month. Sixty-seven percent view her as untrustworthy, a 5-point spike since just last month. That’s a big change from the spring of 2015, when only 45 percent of Americans judged her as untrustworthy.

At last week’s Republican National Convention, speaker after speaker used time on stage to rip into Clinton’s trust numbers, signaling that the general election battle between her and Republican nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's debate showdown Arpaio files libel suit against New York Times IMF's Christine Lagarde delays trip to Middle East MORE will be a war of attrition filled with negative attacks.

Clinton could, of course, be in an even worse position when it comes to her email.

She escaped criminal charges from the FBI earlier this month, when Director James Comey laid out a searing catalog of offenses by Clinton that many Republicans interpreted as bald-faced proof that the former secretary not only broke the law but lied to the public about her email practices.

Trump and Republicans have shown a determination to keep the story alive.

The GOP standard-bearer refers to Clinton as “Crooked Hillary” at almost every mention, while party lawmakers are expected to launch further investigations into the issue this fall.

Democrats recognize the peril they face and will use this week’s Democratic National Convention to buttress Clinton’s image.

A crucial argument for Democrats is that the former first lady should be much more trusted to be president than Trump, who they intend to portray as unready for the job.

There’s a sense in some Democratic circles that while Clinton has been damaged by the controversy, it won’t ultimately sink her against the bombastic billionaire.

“Americans are basically comparison shoppers,” said Brad Bannon, a Democratic strategist. “If Hillary Clinton was running against somebody like [Ohio Gov.] John Kasich, the FBI-email thing would have been devastating.

“But she’s not running against John Kasich; she’s running against Donald Trump,” he said.

Recent national polling suggests that the damning results of the federal investigation into her server did little to tilt supporters away from the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee but may have hurt her with independents.

Over half of Americans believe that the FBI should have recommended charges against Clinton — 58 percent — and disapproval wasn’t evenly split down party lines. Nine in 10 Republicans said she should have been charged, and 3 in 10 Democrats and 6 in 10 independents also believed the agency made the wrong decision.

But whether the revelations from Comey’s statements changed many votes remains murky.

According to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, 45 percent of Republicans say the FBI’s findings make no difference in their vote — likely meaning they would never have voted for Clinton anyway. A further 47 percent of voters says it makes them less likely to support her.

Among Democrats, only 1 in 10 said they were less likely to vote for her because of it. The rest said it either made no difference or strengthened their support for her.

But the issue caused a little more shift among independents. Although the majority of voters — 58 percent — said the issue won’t influence their choice, a full third said it made them less likely to support Clinton in November.

Where the issue might matter most, strategists say, could be the critical battleground states of Ohio and Florida.

In both states, just 37 percent said Clinton was the more honest and trustworthy candidate, according to a July 13 Quinnipiac poll released the week after Comey’s announcement.

“The race in Midwestern battleground states are closer than the national polls. I’d make an argument [the email issue] probably does have more effect in Ohio [with] that Midwestern sensibility,” Bannon said. 

Clinton is leading in Ohio, but just barely. In Florida, Trump effectively wiped out her 8-point lead within a month, according to the same Quinnipiac poll, though other polls have Clinton ahead.

“While there is no definite link between Clinton’s drop in Florida and the U.S. Justice Department decision not to prosecute her for her handling of emails, she has lost ground to Trump on questions that measure moral standards and honesty,” said Quinnipiac University Poll assistant director Peter A. Brown.

One big question in Philadelphia will be how Clinton handles the email issue herself.

She has been generally quiet on the topic, with the exception of a few brief TV interviews in the days after the FBI announced its findings.

Democratic strategists expect she will continue to remain largely mum on the details — she has less to gain by rehashing the particulars of her own decision-making than she does by reminding voters that she is their only alternative to Trump.

Republicans interpret Clinton’s silence differently: They see her as hemmed in by her own explanations — if she provides any more detail than she already has, she will contradict her testimony on the matter before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, which the GOP argues was false.

“She cannot admit she lied because doing so admits perjury to Congress,” said Matt Mackowiak, a Republican strategist.

While Clinton supporters are treating the furor over her server as a closed case, there is one more potential storm cloud hovering on the horizon: Clinton could still be deposed in a pair of ongoing civil cases brought by the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch.

Both the State Department and Clinton have resisted calls for her to testify, but it’s unclear if the judge in either case will decide to force her to come forward.

Leaks from that deposition, Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf says, “could change the discussion entirely.”

“The stakes are huge,” he said.