Clinton struggles to improve her likability

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Hillary Clinton’s campaign is dealing with a frustrating reality: A nearly year-long effort to soften her image and make her more likable isn’t working. 

Clinton’s favorable ratings are under water as she struggles to close out a long primary fight with Bernie Sanders and turn to a general election contest against Donald Trump.

{mosads}Forty-four 44 percent of Americans said they held a positive opinion of her in a recent ABC News-Washington Post poll, compared to 53 percent who view her unfavorably. 

A New York Times-CBS News poll out late last month found that nearly two-thirds of registered voters find her untrustworthy and dishonest. 

Allies of Clinton say there are a number of reasons why her numbers are poorer than she’d like. 

They acknowledge that the controversy surrounding her email—which has now lingered for more than a year — has taken a beating on her image.

A report late last month from the State Department’s office of Inspector General that found she broke rules with her home-brew setup was just the latest bad headline, confidantes, donors and other allies said in interviews.  

“Has it brought her down in the polls? Of course it has,” one friend acknowledged.

The fight with Sanders has also taken a toll.

He’s hit Clinton hard with attacks on her speeches to Goldman Sachs, painting the picture of an establishment candidate that has hurt her with young progressives. The Vermont senator went so far as to refer to Clinton as “the lesser of two evils” compared to Trump, a characterization that went beyond the pale, Clinton’s supporters said.

Clinton is also fighting a two-front battle as she contends with insults from Trump, who has locked up the GOP presidential nomination and is now training his fire on her.

Democrats think Clinton can climb back.

They note that Trump also faces high unfavorable numbers, and they are confident that the Democratic Party will unite around Clinton, improving her own poll numbers.

But they also acknowledge she has work to do, and that the poor numbers highlight a major vulnerability going into the general election. 

“I really do think she needs to shake it up,” one surrogate to the campaign acknowledged.

Clinton may have started to do just that with a speech Thursday in San Diego that cast Trump as being unfit to hold the nation’s highest office. 

“This is not someone who should ever have the nuclear codes,” she said in a blistering attack that ignored Sanders and Tuesday’s California primary. “He is not just unprepared — he is temperamentally unfit to hold an office that requires knowledge, stability and immense responsibility.”

It is a move that many allies have been wanting, and one that they think makes Clinton look more presidential. They also think it could help Clinton’s approval ratings.  

“She can’t just sit there and let Trump attack her in an insulting way. She has to slap him back. He’s a joke,” one ally said. “She needs to be doing more of this, a lot more of this.”

Clinton’s team has been trying to improve her public image since last year.

In September, a report in The New York Times detailed efforts the campaign was making to have Clinton show more humor, heart and spontaneity on the campaign trail.

Clinton made an appearance on “Saturday Night Live” not too long after that report, one of a number of appearances on late-night talk shows that were meant to show off a different side to her personality.

Clinton’s staff has tried to place her in atypical situations throughout the cycle.

She appeared on stage in Miami with singer Marc Anthony in the fall. Several months later, she made a cameo on the Comedy Central Show “Broad City.”

She has also started to more frequently call in to cable news programs, a page taken from Trump’s playbook.

Yet those efforts so far have not had an effect on her numbers. Back in September 2015, the ABC-Washington Post poll showed Clinton with similar favorable-unfavorable splits as she has now.

Clinton has much worse numbers at this stage than Barack Obama had in 2008 as the Democratic Primary neared its end. Then-Sen. Obama had a favorability average of 55 percent and unfavorable average at 36 percent.

Clinton’s friends and other allies are frustrated that the Clinton they know behind the scenes hasn’t translated publicly.

Asked what the former secretary of state can do to remedy her likability in the polls Democratic strategist Jim Manley said, “I don’t know if I have an answer to that. This cake has been somewhat baked by this point in time.

“This is frustrating to me,” added Manley, who served as a spokesman to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).  “But I’m afraid there is no silver bullet out there. I spent lot of time with her over the years, literally hundreds of hours with her. It’s difficult to reconcile. She is a warm, generous person but for whatever reason a lot of folks aren’t buying it.”

In a recent profile in New York Magazine, writer Rebecca Traister, who recently spent time with Clinton on the campaign trail noted that she is “uneasy with the press and ungainly on the stump. Catching a glimpse of the ‘real’ her often entails spying something out of the corner of your eye, in a moment when she’s not trying to be, or to sell ‘Hillary Clinton.’”

Her friends agree. They’ve seen the real Clinton they say, the warm and funny one, who they say can’t catch a break.

“There’s a reason I call her a black sweater in a lint storm,” one confidante said. “She has 30 years of baked in the cake mud on her.” 


Tags Barack Obama Bernie Sanders California Donald Trump Harry Reid Hillary Clinton
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