Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- Less than six months before the two-year presidential election cycle begins, Sen. Hillary Clinton's political problems loom larger than ever.

The frontrunner for the Democratic nomination is coasting toward her assured re-election in New York without serious Republican opposition, leaving her time to campaign around the country for dozens of Democratic candidates, while collecting IOUs for her expected presidential bid.

But last week's Gallup Poll, closely read by her many presidential rivals, turned the spotlight on the biggest political obstacle to her future ambitions, raising new questions about whether Democrats would be better advised to pick someone far less polarizing in 2008.

The poll showed in far greater detail than ever before that Americans hold fiercely opposing views about her left-leaning political positions, as well as her character and personality traits -- with men significantly more likely to have a negative opinion about her than women.

The most frequent views expressed by poll respondents ranged from positive perceptions such as intelligent, forthright, and outspoken to negative opinions like aggressive, overbearing, untrustworthy and wishy-washy.

"All in all, the public is just about as likely ... to come up with positive views of Clinton as they are to come up with negative views. Thirty-six percent of Americans could not name anything they admire about Clinton, while 39 percent could not name anything they don't like about her," Gallup reported in a survey conducted June 26-29.

Overall, the public perception of Clinton's image was 51 percent favorable and 44 percent unfavorable. But the intensity of the reactions among those who dislike her, which can be a powerful motivating factor in voter turnout, revealed a major political weakness that could become a strategic issue in her party's nominating battle to come.

Among those expressing negative opinions about Clinton, 11 percent cited her "liberal political views," while 11 percent said she "wavers too much on issues to her advantage."

"These are followed by expression of a basic lack of trust in her (8 percent), residues of past Clinton scandals (7 percent) and the view that she is overbearing and aggressive (7 percent)," Gallup said.

Especially troubling for her: "Men are significantly more likely ... to verbalize negative opinions of Clinton than are women. Seventy percent of men can mention something they don't like about Clinton, compared to 55 percent of women," Gallup found.

Other independent pollsters say they, too, have found that Clinton triggers unusually strong responses from voters who either like her very much or dislike her intensely, with little middle ground.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.