Hillary’s negatives worry Democrats

Looking past the presidential nomination fight, Democratic leaders quietly fret that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton at the top of their 2008 ticket could hurt candidates at the bottom.

They say the former first lady may be too polarizing for much of the country. She could jeopardize the party’s standing with independent voters and give Republicans who otherwise might stay home on Election Day a reason to vote, they worry.

In more than 40 interviews, Democratic candidates, consultants and party chairs from every region pointed to internal polls that give Clinton strikingly high unfavorable ratings in places with key congressional and state races.

“I’m not sure it would be fatal in Indiana, but she would be a drag” on many candidates, said Democratic state Rep. Dave Crooks of Washington, Ind.

Unlike Crooks, most Democratic leaders agreed to talk frankly about Clinton’s political coattails only if they remained anonymous, fearing reprisals from the New York senator’s campaign. They all expressed admiration for Clinton, and some said they would publicly support her fierce fight for the nomination — despite privately held fears.

The chairman of a Midwest state party called Clinton a nightmare for congressional and state legislative candidates.

A Democratic congressman from the West, locked in a close re-election fight, said Clinton is the Democratic candidate most likely to cost him his seat.

A strategist with close ties to leaders in Congress said Democratic Senate candidates in competitive races would be strongly urged to distance themselves from Clinton.

“The argument with Hillary right now in some of these red states is she’s so damn unpopular,” said Andy Arnold, chairman of the Greenville, S.C., Democratic Party. “I think Hillary is someone who could drive folks on the other side out to vote who otherwise wouldn’t.”

“Republicans are upset with their candidates,” Arnold added, “but she will make up for that by essentially scaring folks to the polls.”

In national surveys, Clinton’s lead over chief rival Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois has widened. Her advantage is much narrower where it counts most — in early voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire. In matchups against potential GOP presidential candidates, Clinton leads or is tied.

The Clinton campaign points to those figures to make a case for her electability in a constant stream of e-mails, letters and phone calls to jittery Democrats across the country. A key to their strategy is to give Clinton’s candidacy a sense of inevitability despite her negative ratings, which aides insist will go down.

“All the negatives on her are out,” said Clinton’s pollster and strategist Mark Penn. “There is a phenomena with Hillary, because she is the front-runner and because she’s been battling Republicans for so long, her unfavorability (rating) looks higher than what they will eventually be after the nomination and through the general election.”

What the Clinton campaign doesn’t say is that her edge over potential Republican candidates is much smaller than it should be, given the wide lead the Democratic Party holds over the GOP in generic polling.

The problem is her political baggage: A whopping 49 percent of the public says they have an unfavorable view of Clinton compared to 47 percent who say they hold her in high regard, according to a Gallup Poll survey Aug. 3-5.

Her negative ratings are higher than those of her husband, former President Clinton, former President George H.W. Bush and 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry at the end of their campaigns.

A candidate’s unfavorability scores almost always climb during campaigns. If the pattern holds, Clinton has a historically high hurdle to overcome.

“For Hillary, who has been on the scene for so long and has had perception of her so ground in … there’s no question it will be really hard for her to change perceptions,” said Democratic pollster David Eichenbaum, who represents moderate Democrats in GOP-leaning states.

Her baggage is heaviest in those states. Private polling conducted in Colorado, for example, shows that Clinton’s negative rating is 16 percentage points higher than her favorability score.

Colorado is a state Democrats hope to win in the 2008 presidential race. It also has an open Senate seat, with the Republican incumbent opting not to seek another term and Democrats targeting it.

Obama has much lower unfavorability ratings than Clinton, though Democrats say he may have his own problem — that of race. It’s hard to measure the impact of being the first party to put a black at the top of the ticket, Democratic leaders said.

Some Democrats hold out hope that Clinton can turn things around.

“She’s got a tough road to hoe because people have formed opinions of her,” said Rep. Tim Mahoney, a freshman Democrat from Florida. “But I can and will tell you that when I see Hillary get out there with the public, she changes people’s minds. She’s not the stereotype that people know her to be.”

In Indiana, where three freshman Democratic congressmen are fighting to retain their seats, Crooks said Clinton would be a burden in districts like his full of “gun-toting, bible-carrying, God-loving, church-attending” voters.

“She is just so polarizing,” the state lawmaker said. Clinton would drag any candidate down 3 or 4 percentage points, he said.

“I’m one of these Democrats who has some legitimate reservations, because the Clintons have in the past invigorated the Republican base,” said Carrie Webster, a leader in the West Virginia state House who served as executive director of the state party when Bill Clinton won the 1992 West Virginia primary.

“But the fact that so many prominent Democratic males are getting behind her at this early point makes me a little more confident that she could overcome some of the more obvious hurdles,” she said.

Nebraska party chairman Matt Connealy said he believes Democratic candidates will be able to avoid a Clinton backlash.

“I probably would have given you a different answer a month ago,” he said, “and maybe will give you a different answer a month from now.”


Associated Press writers Kathy Barks Hoffman in Michigan, Marc Levy in Pennsylvania, Lawrence Messina in West Virginia, Steven K. Paulson in Colorado, Kelley Shannon in Texas and Mike A. Smith in Indiana contributed to this report.


  1. EdEKit

    There are two potential DEMOCRATS to nominate, One is John Edwards, the other is Bill Richardson.
    That said, I am beginning to wonder how much Voter turnout in the primaries is being considered.

  2. JerZGirl

    Should a woman be able to run for president? Yes, of course, without a doubt!!

    Is Hillary that woman? Not hardly. Too much controversy, too much attitude, too little likeability.

    The Democrats need someone far less divisive, someone who will capture the hearts and hopes of Americans, coast to coast. She isn’t it.

    Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit.

    Wisdom is knowing not to put it in fruit salad.

  3. JerZGirl

    Funny how she made an appearance at the annual KOS blogger convention, but failed to even acknowledge the convention held in Chicago last month by women bloggers throughout the country. If she wants any chance at all, she needs to acknowledge her own gender – and not just the more radical members therein. For more information on that convention, see the following link.


    Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit.

    Wisdom is knowing not to put it in fruit salad.

  4. lexiedogmom

    Lexie Homewood

    Hillary’s negatives have been a concern for me since before she announced, (but back when everyone knew she was going to run.)

    I think her public style has increased enormously, but all the things people are saying about her are things I can recognize, if not agree with (all of them.) Grim perfection, cautiously staying in the center, carfully plotting the course and sticking to it. She is still not, in my opinion “real” or warm.

    If the Dems manage to lose in 2008, they have no one but themselves to blame.

  5. Citroyen

    I decided back in 2002 that I would not vote for Hillary Clinton.

    The person I respect most in the field is Kucinich, but none of the media will discuss his proposals – including the media on the comatose “left”.

    I will also add that the more Obama talks, the more frightened I get at the propect of his being in a position of real power. He makes Hillary Clinton seem like an oasis.

  6. SEAL

    The voters on both sides have already made up their minds about Clinton and nothing will change that before November 2008. That is her major drawback. They would be much better off with a candidate that they could “sell.” There is no mystery as to what Clinton will do. They cannot “claim” she would do differently as they can with any of the others. She would be the equivallent of an incumbent running for reelection. From an electable point of view, she is the worst candidate they could field.

    Obama’s race would be a minor negative, of course. But I don’t agree that Obama’s race would cause him as much problem as feared because Omama does not have a problem with being black, he is not perceived by the majority as a black, nor is he running as a black. That’s the reason the black community is not exactly enthusiastic about him. His primary backing and support, thus far, comes from whites and he has a definate advantage with hispanics who will consider him an empathetic minority going head to head with the likes of a Fred Thompson. The republicans will have the problem of appearing racist by any of their usual “attack” tactics during their campaigns. With their “style” he would be the most difficult for republicans to run against.

    Edwards would just be another sorry candidate in a long line of democrat mistakes like Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale. He has boyish zeal and charm but no presidential pressence. A presidential candidate must inspire confidence in themselves and their ability to lead. Edwards is not “man” enough to do that.

    That is the way I see it. Too bad Dennis the Menace has no chance.

  7. Steve Horn

    You know, I had a feeling of nausea this morning – while listening to NPR and an interview with Rove regarding his departure from DC I discovered that I actually AGREE with the guy on a point.
    That point was his prediction that the Democratic party will nominate Clinton to run in ’08 thereby ensuring that the Republican party will retain control of the Whitehouse.

  8. Klaus Hergeschimmer

    The Democrats are quite adept at running ‘suicide’ candidates with baggage, and Hillary fits that bill to a ‘T’.

  9. ekaton

    Hillary is the Bilderberg/Trilateral Commission/Globalist Plan B. The Republican candidate, whomever that may be, probably Giuliani or Romney, is Plan A, just as in 2004 when Kerry was Plan B to a continued Bush Regime Plan A. Either candidate will be acceptable to the Bilderberger/Trilateralist/Globalist corporatocracy. Note that Gore and Kerry both just bent over and took it like a man when they lost in obviously fixed elections 2000 and 2004. There is little but window dressing difference between any of the candidates, other than Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich or Mike Gravel, none of whom will be their respective party’s nominee. (And by the way, what is it with Hillary and her outlandishly garish outfits these days? She looks like a cartoon character.)

    — Kent Shaw

  10. SEAL

    what is it with Hillary and her outlandishly garish outfits these days? She looks like a cartoon character.)– Kent Shaw

    Kent, I think they are trying to give her some personality with the wardrobe change. Her natural personality is one degree below a doorknob.

    I’m simply amazed at the number of influencial Democrats that are supporting her while stating it is contrary to their own better judgment. Don’t they realize, whether true or not, that saying that tells us they have some sort of backroom “deal” whereby they will gain if she is elected?

    Years gone by, polititions were pretty smart. Either they have gotten dumb over the years or they just don’t care if the world knows they are all crooked now-a-days. It certainly is a fact that the more dishonest they are the more votes they get. I have to wonder how Tony Soprano would do in this election?