A new CBS poll on Hillary Clinton this week suggests that the former first lady, New York senator and secretary of state faces a steeper road to the White House than her supporters might think. Only 26 percent in the poll of the adult population had a favorable view of Clinton, while 37 percent had an unfavorable opinion, and an astonishing 36 percent said they hadn't heard enough to form an opinion or were undecided.
Because the poll sampled all adults, not just registered voters, the poll's political significance is limited. Much of the general public pays little attention to politics, and even less so this far out from an election. And, obviously, only those who register and vote actually matter on Election Day.
Nonetheless, the inevitability of a Clinton presidency is far from secure. For one thing, many people don't trust her. According to the CBS poll, only 42 percent view her as trustworthy, while 47 percent do not. What is unusual about this finding is that it goes against the usual gender advantage women candidates have on issues of trust and ethics. For decades, studies and polling have shown that voters think women politicians are more likely than men to be trustworthy and ethical.
Hillary's problems go back to her days in the White House in the 1990s. Who among those who follow politics can forget the battle over her billing records from the Rose Law Firm, subpoenaed but "lost," until they showed up mysteriously two years later in the first couple's White House residence? From her response to the Benghazi attack, which killed a U.S. ambassador and two other Americans, to the dustup over her using a personal email account to conduct State Department business, Clinton has shown herself to be both defensive and secretive, neither of which qualities inspires trust.
Clinton also seems tired. As a woman who is the same age as Clinton, I can understand it. I travel a great deal -- about 100,000 miles a year -- but nothing like Clinton will when she runs. Sixteen-hour days are one thing when you're in your 40s and another as you approach 70. And, let's face it, women may hold a gender advantage with the public on some personal attributes, but age isn't one of them.
Clinton will be 69 in 2016 -- the same age as Ronald Reagan was in 1980 when he ran and won in a landslide. But age was kinder to Reagan, as it often is to men. Reagan managed to convey energy and vigor by riding horseback and chopping wood in his leisure time and engaging with voters and debating on the campaign trail. Clinton doesn't seem to have that same gift. Sure, it's not fair that women are judged more harshly on age -- but it probably matters in an election, even if few people are willing to say so.
Clinton has tremendous advantages -- not least intelligence, ambition and a fundraising juggernaut -- which have discouraged other serious Democrats from entering the race. But it's important to remember that in 2008 her nomination seemed pretty inevitable, too, until a little-known first-term senator decided to launch a challenge. We all know how that ended.
But Clinton can't be beat unless someone else gets in the race. Right now, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley looks like he might make a go of it. O'Malley isn't a household name, but neither was Barack Obama, and unlike Obama, O'Malley has had actual executive experience.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren keeps saying she's not running, but she has a fervent fan base in the left wing of the Democratic Party and could cause Clinton some problems if she decided to throw her hat in the ring. But there are other Democratic senators who also could step into the fray.
Sen. Sherrod Brown from Ohio comes to mind. A former Eagle Scout and a devout member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, he seems solidly Middle American and would win support among union members and populists for his role in blocking U.S. free trade agreements. He also happens not to be up for reelection until 2018, which means he could run without giving up his current job.
It is far too early to know what will happen once the race for president begins. But I, for one, am not betting that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee.