by Mark Shanahan, Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Reading.
“The race for the Democratic nomination is in the home stretch, and victory is in sight!”
With those words, Hillary Rodham Clinton addressed the adoring loyalists gathered to hear her victory speech at the end of a bruising New York primary. On the other side of the political fence, Donald Trump was winning all but one New York county. In a normal election year, the two front runners would be switching focus by now, putting the primaries behind them and getting set for November’s presidential election. But heck, this year has been about as far from the ‘norms’ of campaign politics as you can possibly imagine. The cleavage between the traditional Kingmakers of the GOP and the disaffected grassroots has let through the ideologue Cruz and the demagogue Trump to do battle for the hearts of conservatives, while in the liberal corner Hillary’s expected stroll to Philadelphia in July to be placed at the head of the Democrat ticket with all due pomp and ceremony has become a jagged, ragged marathon, with a grizzled Brooklynite at her heels, and sinking favourability ratings stacking up around her.
The Clinton who launched Hard Choices, a policy manifesto dressed up as a reflection on her time as Secretary of State, released in 2014, could never have thought her path to Philadelphia could ever be quite so rocky. In 2014, as well as providing a masterclass in International Relations, her memoir hit all the electoral sweet spots necessary for her to connect with the Democratic voting audiences she needed to secure the nomination. Women, youth, LGBT+, economic equality, climate change. In her non-manifesto, Hillary addressed them all and sounded, well, presidential.
But with Democrats feeling the Bern all along the Primary trail from Iowa right through to this week’s bun fight in his birth city and her adopted state, Hillary hasn’t sounded quite so poised – or quite as energised as the Vermont Senator who sat in Congress as an independent. On my personal scale of one to 10, Hillary’s campaign has so far been… ‘meh’.
Bernie has exposed her Wall Street leanings, Gen Y (and even Gen X) don’t see her as sufficiently liberal. There’s the problem of Bill, and the GOP has been relentless, though so far unsuccessful, in its pursuit of her over role when US consular staff were killed in Benghazi and the ongoing issues over her use of a private email server. She’s a more than a little tainted as a candidate, and it’s showing in her polling. According to Gallup last week, Clinton’s net favourability among Democrats is +36. The poll was taken as she ramped up in New York, and shows a slip from +63 early last November.
Here’s a candidate who needs women to vote for her if she’s to win. She needs minorities and she needs the purple middle-grounders who will vote based on personal preference rather than party allegiance. So far, she hasn’t done as well as expected.
Will Clinton ‘step it up’ in the comng weeks?
But maybe the tide’s turning. Looking forward to the Maryland Primary on April 26, Hillary’s polling well. Overall, she’s ahead of Bernie 58-33%. She’s polling 75% of the African American vote, leads with both male and female voters and, crucially for her, is ahead 48-43 with voters under 45 alongside her 66-27 advantage with older voters.
If Maryland was projected nationally, Clinton would trounce any of the GOP candidates who could be ranged against her. But of course Maryland isn’t quite the national touchstone, despite sending Democrat senators to Congress, while electing a Republican Governor at home. But next week’s Primaries should be good for Hillary and the Bern may finally burn out. As well as a substantial lead in Maryland, Clinton leads in Pennsylvania – the week’s big prize – and Connecticut. There has been no public polling in Delaware or Rhode Island, but she’s expected to prevail there.
After that, it’s time for Hillary to really start looking Presidential again, to start tackling the issues rather than negative campaigning against a party rival. Getting dragged into a negative, dirty campaign plays straight into the hands of her opponent. From July to November she’ll have to look, sound and think like a President. She hasn’t quite cracked that yet.
 H R Clinton, Hard Choices: A Memoir, Simon & Schuster (London, 2014)