Hillary Clinton’s favorability ratings are underwater in three swing states President Obama won handily:
A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday found that Clinton has strikingly negative favorability ratings among voters in Virginia, Iowa and Colorado, especially compared with where she stood in the spring.
The numbers come at a time when Clinton has a massive fundraising lead, relatively weak competition for the Democratic nomination and more federal government experience than other candidates. Even with these advantages, the poll shows Clinton may be vulnerable in states that by all accounts will have an outsize say in who wins the White House next year.
Then there’s this:
— Phil Kerpen (@kerpen) July 22, 2015
45/50 on the “needs and problems” question in Virginia isn’t a good sign for the would-be first female president.
Clinton would have had a lock on the 2008 nomination had it not been for a charismatic young senator from Illinois with a hint of the messianic about him. Even then it was a close-run thing, with Hillary having a slight edge in the popular primary vote, but Obama doing the hard ground work of winning more delegates in the caucus states.
This time around Clinton’s main challenge is a septuagenarian socialist Senator from Vermont with no hint of the messianic, but who connects with the Democrats’ increasingly populist-progressive base. Unlike ’08, Hillary won’t make the mistake of concentrating her efforts on the big headline primary states, but is already spending vast sums building grassroots organizations even in places as unlikely as Oklahoma.
So even with Clinton “feeling the Bern” in IA and NH, 2016 probably won’t be another close-run thing.
Her problem comes in the general election, because the polls show that she isn’t very likable and she’s even less trustworthy — which brings us to her campaign’s central dilemma.
Obama’s domestic record can be summed up with two letters: D&D. Not “Dungeons & Dragons” but “Division & Despair.” Clinton’s trick then is to separate herself from Obama’s record of economic despair, without alienating the young and minority voters (the “divided”) who still approve of his policies.
John McCain faced a similar problem in 2008 — how to distinguish himself from George W. Bush without alienating himself from the GOP base. McCain’s one advantage in that difficult task was his reputation as a “maverick,” never fully in tune with the GOP to begin with. He might have even pulled it off, had the financial meltdown not have intervened.
On the other hand, Hillary’s task is made more difficult because “I support Obama’s policies but not the bad results!” is a fundamentally dishonest approach — and voters already find Clinton to be untrustworthy.
McCain in 2008 was able to play into his one real strength. Clinton must play into her greatest weakness. That her weakness shows in CO, IA, and VA may provide a glimmer of hope for the GOP. Without those states, Clinton begins with a likely Electoral College floor of 241. With those states, Clinton begins with a virtually insurmountable lead of 269 — the GOP candidate would have to sweep every other swing state in order to win. If CO-IA-VA go Red, the GOP contender would then need to take FL and one out of NV, OH, or WI. Or if FL is out of reach, they would have to start with OH and also nab the other two.
(ASIDE: I’m assuming that MI, MN, NM, and PA remain out of play for the GOP, but that Walker puts WI — trending ever more purple since 2000 — into play.)
There is one more big difference between 2008 and 2016. Eight years ago, Clinton was still the likable-if-unaccomplished senator from New York — baggage free, and running as the First Woman Ever.
Now she’s lost much of her likability, and must also carry eight years of Obama’s baggage and four years of her own as SecState. Plus, at some point voters are going to have to ask themselves if they really want to spend four or even eight years with a president with a voice like the Psycho knife music. It might be cruel to mention it, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
If Obama’s record can be summed up with D&D, then Clinton’s weaknesses are U-Cubed: Unlikable, Untrustworthy, Unconcerned. Hit her hard and smart on all three, and she could very well crumble with the middle of the electorate. Keep an eye on Carly Fiorina’s social media and other appearances — she’s been showing exactly where and how to hit Clinton — smart, hard, and fast. If there’s a better Veep pick than Fiorina, I haven’t seen them in action yet. Not even close.
The GOP has a tough road to 270, but today’s poll numbers may show a way to smooth it.