Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonAttorney charged in Durham investigation pleads not guilty Attorney indicted on charge of lying to FBI as part of Durham investigation Durham seeking indictment of lawyer with ties to Democrats: reports MORE is taking a new tack to boost her image in the Democratic presidential campaign.
Clinton acknowledged during Wednesday’s Democratic debate that she was “not a natural politician” and expanded on the theme in an interview with the SiriusXM radio show “The Mayor” the following day.
“This is harder for me,” she said. “I admire the skills my husband [former Preisdent Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonBusiness coalition aims to provide jobs to Afghan refugees Biden nominates ex-State Department official as Export-Import Bank leader Obamas, Bushes and Clintons joining new effort to help Afghan refugees MORE] and President ObamaBarack Hussein Obama Chelsea Manning tests positive for COVID-19 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Tight security for Capitol rally; Biden agenda slows Obama backs Trudeau in Canadian election MORE have. They’re charismatic, and they’re compelling, and they’re great orators. I do get up every day and say, ‘What can I do to try make someone’s life better?’”
Few objective observers view such comments as spontaneous moments of candor. Rather, they see them as part of a strategy to warm up perceptions of the Democratic front-runner, who is seen suffering an enthusiasm deficit by comparison with her rival Bernie SandersBernie SandersDemocrats urge Biden to commute sentences of 4K people on home confinement Briahna Joy Gray: Push toward major social spending amid pandemic was 'short-lived' Sanders 'disappointed' in House panel's vote on drug prices MORE.
“It’s an attempt — maybe successful — to get people to see her less as a politician and as more of a personality,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a New York-based Democratic strategist who has worked for Clinton in the past but has no involvement in the current campaign. “She is attempting to remove herself from an elite class of people who tend to be disliked right now — professional politicians.”
Clinton has an uphill climb ahead if she is to freshen up her public image, however.
Polling shows that while voters respect her experience and toughness, many find her untrustworthy.
In a Washington Post/ABC News poll released on Wednesday, Clinton scored worse than Republicans Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzMore than 10,000 migrants await processing under bridge in Texas Senators slow Biden with holds at Pentagon, State The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Schumer: Dem unity will happen eventually; Newsom prevails MORE and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioMilley says calls to China were 'perfectly within the duties' of his job Overnight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right MORE when respondents were asked to assess candidates' honesty and trustworthiness. She did, however, best Donald TrumpDonald TrumpOvernight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Interior returns BLM HQ to Washington France pulls ambassadors to US, Australia in protest of submarine deal MORE on that question.
Despite her quarter-century on the national stage, there have been lingering questions about her authenticity. When she came to the brink of tears in New Hampshire during her 2008 battle with then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), it was seen as a rare human moment.
Clinton supporters are also perplexed by resistance to her among young voters, including women. Exit polls from Michigan, where Sanders scored a shock win on Tuesday, showed Clinton losing voters between the ages of 18 and 44 by a 2-1 margin (65 percent to 32 percent).
Since the campaign began, Clinton aides have sought to generate more passion for her, particularly with younger voters. Clinton has appeared on late-night talk shows, sat down for a podcast with Lena Dunham and did an interview with Refinery 29, a website geared at 20-something women.
Still, although the Michigan exit poll did not break down the voting behavior of women from different age groups, it did show the former secretary of State losing unmarried women, who tend to be younger, by 7 points, while she won married women by 6 points.
The hope among some Democrats is that a clearer admission by Clinton of her weaknesses will serve to make her a more relatable figure.
“I hope to hear more of this kind of talk from her in the future,” said Jim Manley, a former aide to Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDemocrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight Biden looks to climate to sell economic agenda Justice Breyer issues warning on remaking Supreme Court: 'What goes around comes around' MORE (D-Nev.) “I think it’s an acknowledgement, and it not only helps to humanize her, but it explains to people who she is and what she wants to do.”
Manley also noted, as do many experts, that Hillary Clinton has constantly suffered by comparison with her husband, who is widely considered one of the most gifted campaigners of the modern era.
“She’s not her husband,” Manley said. “Anyone would pale in comparison to her husband’s skills as a politician — [he is] one of the most skilled politicians we’ve seen in years.”
A longtime adviser to Hillary Clinton struck a similar theme. Referring to the front-runner’s “not a natural politician” remark, the adviser said, “I think it’s an accurate statement and a humble recognition of reality.”
The person added, however, that Clinton’s comparative lack of magnetism and ease was far from a disqualification for the Oval Office.
“It’s important to keep in mind that only part of the job of being president involves ‘commanding the stage’ in that way, and she brings world-class leadership skills to the task in other ways. … There is virtue in her wonkiness, and it’s worth embracing.”
Another source, a friend of Clinton’s dating back years, pushed back against the idea that these recent statements amount to a strategic gambit in and of themselves.
“I thought it was a very honest moment. … She’s saying ‘I get it,’ and I think she’s enormously effective in those moments. It gives you a window into her thinking.”
Still, Sheinkopf noted that there was some risk in using a loaded phrase such as “not a natural politician,” given Clinton’s long and often tumultuous time in public life.
“It will be reinterpreted,” he said, suggesting the phrase can make for “extraordinarily effective ads against her in the fall where [opponents] will be able to dredge up all these things from her past.
“Hillary Clinton says she is not a natural politician,” Sheinkopf went on, using the ominous tone of an attack-ad narrator. “'Well, look at what she’s done. Look at all this money coming into the Clinton Foundation. It sure sounds like she’s a natural politician.’"