Concern lingers over enthusiasm for Clinton candidacy
King of Prussia, Pa. — Hillary Clinton has a problem.
Too many voters say they’re supporting her for a reason you’d never want printed on a campaign T-shirt: “I’m voting for the lesser of two evils.”
It’s far from inspiring, but that’s why 67-year-old Maria Mengel, who’s from the Philadelphia suburb of King of Prussia, said she’s backing Clinton over Republican Donald Trump.
“It’s against Trump,” she said, explaining her vote. “I can’t see a presidency under him. He really scares me.”
National preference polls may give Clinton an edge over Trump and the electoral map may favor her.
Sizable numbers of Democrats say they’re behind Clinton. But many say they’re more motivated by a desire to keep Trump out of the White House than by her vision for the country’s future or by her bid to become the first woman to serve as president.
Democrats and independent voters in the Philadelphia suburbs — a crucial area in a competitive state — expressed mixed feelings about Clinton in the days leading up to this week’s Democratic National Convention in their hometown.
Linda Groverman, 62, of Blue Bell, said she’d vote for Clinton, but quickly noted the former secretary of state was far from her first choice. “She’s got a lot of experience and I can’t stand Trump,” she said. “He’s a bully.”
Like Trump, Clinton has her faithful followers. And like Trump, negative views of Clinton run deep, even among some supporters.
Half of Clinton’s own backers say they consider her only slightly or not at all honest, and more than one-third say she’s only slightly or not at all likable, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll conducted this month.
“I’m not excited,” said Matthew Mousley, 36, of Springfield, who nevertheless plans to support Clinton. “I guess, it’s just, I feel like there should be better options.”
It’s a worry for Clinton’s top aides, who see maximizing Democratic turnout as a main campaign challenge.
They fear supporters may stay home in November, unmotivated by Clinton’s candidacy or out of a belief that Trump cannot win.
Clinton’s campaign aims to use the convention to try and rectify both problems. Her team has drafted a schedule featuring four days of speakers who will hammer away at Trump’s “dangerous and divisive” vision for the country.
Others plan to talk about the Clinton they know, a woman they describe as brilliant, warm and funny.
They’ll highlight lesser-known parts of her biography, such as her early work as an activist for children and families, her push to expand federal health insurance to millions of children as first lady and her advocacy for 9/11 first responders as a New York senator.
That may not be enough to cut into Clinton’s trust deficit.
Her approval ratings have fallen from a high of 65 percent in December 2012, when her tenure at the State Department drew to a close, to below 40 percent this month. That’s a historic low for a presidential candidate — surpassed only by Trump.
There’s little question that the lengthy investigations into the 2012 attack on a U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya, and her use of a private email account and server as secretary of state have taken a toll her approval ratings.
The drawn-out primary campaign against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders only served to reinforce other weaknesses, such as her ties to Wall Street and long history in politics.
“She’s been in Washington for so long,” said Lisa Tarlecki, 56, of Berwyn, who said she was weighing whether to vote for Clinton — or not at all.
“The emails, that’s probably the biggest (issue).”
Janet Schreiner, 64, of Wynnewood, called Clinton “the brightest woman in the room” and was excited to vote for her. But she also said Clinton should address the trust issues head-on.
“Many people are uncomfortable with this whole FBI thing,” Schreiner said, referring to the bureau’s investigation into Clinton’s email practices. “I think she really needs to address it in some kind of way.”
In recent weeks, Clinton has begun to acknowledge that she has a problem.
“I personally know I have work to do on this front. A lot of people tell pollsters they don’t trust me,” Clinton said in a Chicago speech last month. “It is certainly true I have made mistakes.”
Clinton’s campaign believes voters like Clinton more when she’s serving in office than when she’s campaigning, a view they say is intertwined with the scandals of her husband’s administration, years of relentless GOP attacks and how Americans view female candidates.
They argue that voters still don’t really know Clinton, despite her decades in public life and multiple autobiographies.
But some voters say there is nothing Clinton could say to win them over.
Maggie Chain, 28, an independent who registered as a Democrat to support Sanders, said Clinton was a “liar” with “a lot of blood on her hands.” She said Clinton can’t change her feelings now.
“She could have dealt with it 20 years ago, when she started lying to the public,” Chain said.