The chinks in Hillary Clinton’s once impenetrable armor have been found. Hillary’s opponents have been able to link her stand – or lack thereof – on issues to reinforce voter’s doubts about her honesty and electability. Doubts about her positions on Iraq and Iran and her inability to provide straightforward answers on issues such as social security, access to her White House records, and driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants have led to what seems like her first losing media cycle of the campaign. Even her husband – usually a media darling – seemed to stumble as he attempted to defend his wife from ramped up criticism.
While there are questions about the impact of Hillary’s performance on voters, what is clear is that the media has abandoned the invincibility story line and her opponents are trying to take advantage.
Some polls do show her lead over Barack Obama shrinking. A CNN poll had her lead down from 30% to 17% while a Washington Post/ABC poll shrank from 33% to 23%. And in the crucial state of Iowa a recent Zogby poll has her clinging to a 28 to 25 lead (down from 30 – 19) while Rasmussen saw her New Hampshire lead shrink to its lowest level this year
Whatever her national numbers, a loss in Iowa or even a narrow victory in New Hampshire would be a huge setback for the candidate perceived as the presumed nominee. Losing the expectations game can have enormous consequences.
What should also concern Hillary are voter’s negative perceptions of her. Polls continue to show her with negatives in the mid to high forties; higher than any of her rivals. Specifically, the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that 43% of voters had a negative perception of her honesty. This seems to indicate that the criticisms are having an effect
Fueling these doubts are questions about her character and her electability and these are the points her opponents are driving home. Organizations like Stop Her Now have been raising the issue of access to White House documents for months, but it was only after the debate that it became an issue in the campaign. After Tim Russert asked Hillary about the issue, Obama went on record as finding her answers “a problem” and “disingenuous” thus kicking off another round of media stories questioning why the documents were being held until after the election.
Hillary’s need to placate the liberal base has also begun to trip her up. In questions on giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants Hillary faced a choice between a simple answer and offending key voters. Yes would have left her vulnerable since as much as 77% of the public are opposed to the idea. No, however, would have put her at odds with the liberal Democratic base that supports unrestricted immigration and benefits for illegals.
Hillary’s solution was to straddle and hedge, but she couldn’t pull it off. Obama and Edwards quickly jumped in to decry her evasive and slippery answers. Following the debate Edwards used Hillary’s awkward and confusing answers to create a devastating ad that was quickly linked across the Internet and seemed to breathe new life into his campaign. Soon even Hillary had to admit the debate wasn’t her “best performance.”
These weaknesses have not only given her primary opponents new life, but have exposed liabilities for the general election. Despite a sizable advantage for Democrats in generic ballot polling, Hillary is virtually tied with GOP candidates Rudy Giuliani and John McCain.
What her recent stumbles reveal is that Hillary is vulnerable. She is attempting a precarious balancing act. She needs to attract and hold the support of liberals while at the same time leaving room to move to the center. But this requires a finesse that Hillary, unlike her husband, lacks. Every time she tries to avoid being pinned down on difficult issues like social security, immigration, and taxes she highlights doubts about her honesty and voter’s trust. Doubts her opponents are sure to reinforce.
And the more these attacks tarnish Hillary’s inevitability the more doubts are raised about her electability. During the debate Senator Chris Dodd spoke openly about Hillary’s un-electability and continues to discuss it on the campaign trail. The more these doubts are discussed the more chance they have to grow.
The only way to stop Hillary is to continue to apply the pressure and keep the focus on Hillary’s weaknesses. Hillary is a committed and experienced campaigner with millions of dollars on hand; she won’t go down without a fight.
But the last few weeks have shown that she is anything but invincible.