It’s now obvious that Hillary Clinton’s negatives are rising among American voters. A Harris Interactive survey says that a majority will not vote for her, and a Gallup poll this week finds her favorability among Democratic primary voters dropping from 82 percent in January, to 74 percent in March.
By itself, this slippage would not be fatal. But it begs the key question: Why is Hillary dropping?
Usually a candidate only falls in the polls when she is attacked by her rivals, or is the object of a major scandal. Yet, Obama and Edwards are treating her with kid gloves — avoiding even the most gentile of criticisms. So noteworthy are their all-positive campaigns, that when Obama’s fund-raiser, David Geffen, knocked Bill for his pardons, it became the central campaign event in January.
And, for once in her life, Hillary is not currently on the griddle for any scandal. There are no daily exposes of her financial or Bill’s marital misconduct. Nobody is hitting Hillary.
The real bad news for her campaign is that Hillary is losing support — not due to any attacks on her, but because people are watching her wage her positive campaign, and are concluding that they just don’t like her.
It is Hillary’s own campaign appearances that are driving up her negatives!
That’s the worst possible news for a campaign. When your main instrument — the candidate — creates negatives in her wake, you’re in big trouble. You can always rebut an attack that comes in from the other side — but how do you fix things when your own candidate’s campaigning is building up her unfavorables?
Basically, voters are seeing that Hillary is a phony. With her posturing on Iraq, and her evasions of her previous positions in favor of the war, she sounds as contradictory and dissimulating as she is. To watch her try to explain her positions on the war is actually amusing. She voted for the war — but now claims she only wanted to strengthen the hands of the U.N. inspectors. She even supported it after she learned there were no WMDs, but now wants a total withdrawal of our troops — except for those she would leave there to keep the Iranians out and hunt down al Qaeda. She voted to cut off funds if the troops are not pulled out, but she doesn’t really want to cut off the funding, etc., etc...No politician looks their best when they are evasive, and Hillary looks worse than most.
The Clinton campaign clearly is dying to switch Clintons, and feature the charismatic Bill and downplay the candidate herself. But the more they put the former president out there, the more people realize that Hillary ain’t Bill. In effect, voters are echoing Lloyd Bentsen’s famous put-down of Quayle in their 1984 vice presidential debate, when Dan tried to invoke the image of John Kennedy in his own defense. Americans this year are saying, “We know Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton is a friend of ours. And Hillary, you’re no Bill Clinton.”
Generally, when the son or daughter of a famous politician strikes out on his or her own, the old man fades into the background. President Bush-41 was noticeable absent while his son ran for his old job. Most politicians are anxious to avoid the comparison between their nascent skills, and the more developed and polished presentation of their fathers. But, by putting Bill out there next to Hillary, we are treated to a daily reminder of the huge difference between them.
Bill Clinton has an infinite range of poses to strike on a public platform: charming, ingratiating, determined, empathetic, committed, sincere, humorous, angry, self-righteous. He can turn on whatever affect suits the purpose. But Hillary has only two gears — park and straight ahead. She knows nothing but direct, strident, shrill advocacy when a microphone is in her hand. On talk shows, she has managed to develop a charming, smiling, giggly persona. But after repeated exposure, it is wearing thin.
Will all this doom Hillary? Probably not. Her ace in the hole is the vast infusion of new single women voters she will attract to the polling booths on Election Day, who are voting for the first time. All current polling excludes these women from its sample because they do not now say they are likely to vote, or aren’t even registered yet. But, by the time Oprah beats the drums for Hillary, they will realize a woman is running and will turn out to support her candidacy.
But if Hillary doesn’t get her act together, even these new voters may not be enough to save her.