Clinton looks for likability with selfies and celebrities

Getty Images

Hillary Clinton is trying to show a more likable side. 

In recent days, she has played soccer goalie with a group of school children, used an analogy of being on a bad blind date and on Monday — to the shock of the Internet — she even barked in front of a crowd. The barking was part of an extended riff on the purported untruthfulness of Republican candidates.

{mosads}As the Democratic presidential race tightens in Nevada and South Carolina, longtime allies to Clinton are worried that the candidate’s personality, which they say is witty and effusive behind the scenes, still isn’t breaking through to the general public. Younger voters seem especially resistant to her charms, they worry.

Months of late night television appearances, podcasts with the likes of  “Girls” creator Lena Dunham, events alongside pop singer Katy Perry and Clinton’s penchant for selfies haven’t seen her gain traction with the much-needed demographic.

And while supporters say they continue to believe she’ll win the nomination against Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — thanks in part to her strength among nonwhite Democrats — they worry that her likability, or the lack of it, could affect turnout in the general election.

“Aside from the looming questions about her emails, I think it’s the biggest problem she has,” said one former aide. “And it’s ridiculous, because she’s an unbelievable person.

“She proved to be a great senator and a great secretary of State, but for whatever reason she can’t get people to like her as a candidate. I can’t for the life of me wrap my mind around it.”

Jim Manley, a strategist and a former spokesman for Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), also finds a disconnect between the woman he knew in Senate markups and the candidate he sees on television.

“She’s funny and warm, but for some reason it’s difficult to come across,” Manley said, adding that “if you look at the polling, there hasn’t been much of a change at all.

“It’s something that the campaign is going to have to deal with,” he said.

Clinton aides maintain they have gained some ground this cycle in showing glimpses of the more private Clinton. This was one of the few silver linings of the furor over her use of a private email account and server while secretary of State, they say. Some publicly released emails have revealed Clinton as a fan of TV shows including “Homeland” and “The Good Wife,” and as a yoga enthusiast. 

The embattled Democratic front-runner herself claims she’s “happy people are looking at the emails.”

“Some of them are, you know, frankly, a little embarrassing,” she said last month at a CNN forum. “You know, you find out that sometimes I’m not the best on technology and things like that, but look, I think it’s great. Let people sort them through and, as we have seen, there is a lot of, you know, a lot of interest.”

This weekend, “Saturday Night Live” homed in on the likability narrative during their cold open when Kate McKinnon, playing Clinton, sang Bonnie Raitt’s classic “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” a song more recently popularized by Adele.

“I mean, Hillary is the most qualified candidate in history, but at the same time, eh,” a Democrat explains to her friends over brunch in the sketch.

“I mean, I like Hillary’s foreign policy experience,” another one responds. “But I like Bernie’s whole vibe.”

“Late Show” host Stephen Colbert piled on Monday night when he poked fun at the Clinton campaign for advertising on AOL. That’s the kind of jab the campaign doesn’t really need, given that it is now searching for an image of vigor and even a modicum of coolness, rather than continuing its earlier tendency to highlight Clinton’s status as a grandmother.

In the New Hampshire primary last week, 83 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 chose Sanders over Clinton, according to CNN’s exit polls.

In her concession speech in the Granite State, Clinton acknowledged that her campaign was having trouble making inroads with young voters and vowed to do better.

But her likability problem could hurt her with independent voters, too. A USA Today/ Suffolk University poll shows that 35 percent of the independents surveyed would be scared of a Clinton presidency.

Jamal Simmons, a Democratic strategist, said he thinks Clinton has “opened up” in recent months and that her efforts have “accentuated her positives.”

“I think she has started to lighten up and seems more at ease than she has in the past,” Simmons said.

But Brad Bannon, another Democratic strategist, said he expects the likability conundrum to persist and continue to plague the campaign.

“I don’t think it’s going to change,” he said. “I don’t think she’s ever going to be Ms. Friendly, but she can be Ms. Tough.”

He said while she hasn’t been able to succeed in showing a more personable side, she has continued to perform well at debates, where she is able to demonstrate her command of the issues.

Bannon noted that Clinton’s approval ratings soared after she testified before the House Benghazi Committee last fall “because it showed Hillary Clinton at her best.”

“When she’s being attacked by a bunch of people, when someone is beating her up, she moves into a higher gear and knocks it out,” he said.

Tags Bernie Sanders Harry Reid Hillary Clinton

The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video