PHILADELPHIA — Democrats are worried about Hillary Clinton’s inability to separate herself from Donald Trump in the polls, even after what they believe was a largely successful convention that represented a real step toward party unity.

Clinton is hoping for a big post-convention boost, but the reality right now is that she in behind Trump in the polls, and has been in a relatively tight race for weeks.

{mosads}While the Electoral College may give her an advantage, party leaders and strategists say they remain concerned that Clinton is a tough sell when a majority of Americans think the country is on the wrong track and want to shake up Washington.

“The most important thing is there is a bias for change and there’s an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll where people express that bias even when they don’t know what the change is going to be,” said Geoff Garin, a pollster who worked for Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and now advises Priorities USA, a pro-Clinton super PAC.

That July survey showed a majority of voters, 56 percent, prefer someone who will bring major changes to government even if they don’t know what those changes will be. Only 46 percent wanted a candidate who would bring a steady approach to government.

It helps explain Trump’s success, and the strong challenge to Clinton in the Democratic primary from Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Away from the hoopla of the Wells Fargo, Democratic officials and strategists say it’s a major concern.

“I’m nervous. The country is in a bad mood. It’s such an unpredictable year,” said a Democratic National Committee official who requested anonymity to speak frankly about Clinton’s prospects.

Other concerns include the possibility of an enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats — Trump got more votes in the GOP primary than any candidate in history while Hillary received fewer votes than she did in 2008 when she lost — and a possible “October surprise.”

One labor official fretted that more hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee may surface later in the campaign and hurt Hillary.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange told CNN this week that his website might release “a lot more material” that could impact the election.

Trump has also been more effective in attracting media attention, even though much of it has been negative.  

He managed to dominate headlines on the third day of the Democratic convention after calling on Russia to help find 30,000 emails Clinton deleted from her private server.

The flip comment, which Trump later downplayed as a joke, would be a mortal blow to just about any other politician but he has shown an uncanny ability to bounce back from similar stumbles, adding to the sense of unease among Democrats. 

“I feel like we shouldn’t be overly optimistic,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). “Time and time again over this last year we thought Trump was done and he’s not so let’s treat him as an incredibly viable, capable opponent.”

The biggest uncertainty hanging over the election is who will show up to the polls on Nov. 8.

One Democratic strategist said Clinton will win if the Obama coalition of young and minority voters show up in force.

“If it’s the same as 2008 and 2012 we win,” the source said. “If it’s 2004, it’s a different story.”

Clinton is putting heavy emphasis on building a vast infrastructure to mobilize voters and she is expected to make many more voter contacts than Trump, who has outsourced his effort to the Republican National Committee.

The DNC official said that advantage for Clinton is work a couple of points, but warned it wouldn’t win the election by itself.

Clinton is treading a different path toward the White House than her past three predecessors.

Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton all presented themselves as agents of change in seeking the White House. The last president to be in a place similar to Clinton’s was George H.W. Bush, who was effectively seeking an extension of the Reagan presidency.

Democrats say the hunger for change explains Trump’s surprisingly strong poll numbers, despite his many gaffes.

A Los Angeles Times/USC tracking poll shows Trump widened his national lead over Clinton during the convention. His five-point lead on Monday grew to seven points by Wednesday.

Iowa Rep. Dave Loebsack (D), whose home state is a presidential battleground, said “of course” he’s concerned by the polls, which he attributed to general dissatisfaction with Washington.

He said Trump has “tapped into that vein of anger at Washington, D.C., anger at the political process in general and the fact that nothing seems to be getting done.”

Clinton’s campaign manager Robby Mook has tried to deflect anger at Washington back onto Trump by arguing he would add to the dysfunction as president.

“If you want more gridlock, pick Donald Trump,” he told NBC’s Chuck Todd Thursday.

Clinton’s campaign has also recognized that selling her as change agent is an uphill battle and spent more time during the convention highlighting her competence and experience while blasting away at Trump as someone unfit to serve in the Oval Office.

Obama and Tim Kaine, her running mate, delivered the message in a one-two punch on Wednesday evening.

Obama’s biggest applause line was his declaration that “there has never been a man or a woman — not me, not Bill, nobody — more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as president.”

Kaine spent his speech tearing into Trump as a “slick-talking, empty-promising, self-promoting, one man wrecking crew.”

Democratic strategists acknowledge Clinton’s decades as a fixture of Washington’s power center is a liability but they hope to turn it into a strength by painting Trump as so unpredictable and unqualified that he’s not a viable choice.

Democratic strategists think that as Election Day nears and Trump’s chances of becoming president seem more real, voters will take a tougher look at his business record, his qualifications and his erratic rhetoric.

“Right now, if you don’t think Donald Trump can win, it’s easy to cast a protest vote for him. Once you do think he might actually become president, questions of his fitness and qualifications will become much more powerful and much more ripe,” said Garin, the Democratic pollster.  

Still, if voters have long thought Trump would not win the White House, polls suggest that is changing.

The Los Angeles Times/USC tracking poll shows most respondents think Clinton will win but the gap has shrunk steadily over the past month. 

Tags Bernie Sanders Bill Clinton democratic convention Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Jeff Merkley Tim Kaine

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