Clinton’s New Hampshire challenge: Winning trust

  • By CATHERINE LUCEY
  • Sunday, February 7, 2016 8:45pm
  • Opinion

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — The private email server. The Wall Street ties. The evolving policy positions. The speaking fees.

The concerns vary, but when it comes to Hillary Clinton, it seems the Democratic presidential candidate is having problems earning the public’s trust.

Ahead of Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, the former secretary of state is trying to convince voters that she is authentic. Rival Bernie Sanders is stepping up criticism of her financial industry connections and questioning whether she is a true liberal.

His message connects with younger people. They seem less interested in Clinton’s pitch as a “progressive who gets things done” than in Sanders’ call to break up big financial institutions and expand social programs as part of a “political revolution.”

“I have a harder time believing her sincerity,” said Suzanne Roberge, 32, of Rochester, who attended a Sanders rally. “I don’t have as much trust.”

Roberge added: “She’s changed her mind on different issues. Bernie Sanders has been so consistent.”

Added Sheila Kelley, 59, of Manchester, a Sanders supporter: “She doesn’t seem truthful. It seems like she’s trying to be everything to everyone.”

Questions about Clinton’s authenticity probably hurt her in Iowa, where she squeaked out a narrow victory over the Vermont senator in Monday’s leadoff caucuses.

Democratic caucus-goers who cared most about candidates who are “honest and trustworthy” or who “care about people like me” overwhelmingly supported Sanders, according to precinct polls conducted for The Associated Press and television networks. Clinton performed far better with people who listed experience or electability as a top concern.

Eight in 10 young people surveyed in Iowa said honesty or caring about people like them are the top qualities for which they are looking.

The surveys of people entering the Democratic caucuses found that Sanders had over 80 percent support from people 29 or younger. Clinton was backed by nearly 70 percent of those 65 and older.

In New Hampshire, too, Sanders may have an advantage with the young.

“She’s the best alternative to Bernie,” said Danielle Adcock, 20, of Manchester, who supports Sanders. But she added: “She takes money from Wall Street.”

In a Quinnipiac University poll in December, Clinton rated highly among all registered voters for her experience and leadership qualities, but 59 percent said she was not honest and trustworthy.

Most Democrats in that survey did say Clinton was honest and trustworthy. But a Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted in January suggests she may have cause for concerns there, too.

That poll found that that while Clinton had a substantial lead over Sanders among Democrats, she lagged behind him on the issue of trust: 48 percent said Sanders was more honest and trustworthy, compared with 36 percent for Clinton.

Asked about matters of trust during a CNN town-hall event in New Hampshire, Clinton spoke about the “velocity of attacks” she has endured from Republicans.

“They don’t give it up,” she said. “So I know that I have to really demonstrate as clearly as I can who I am, what I stand for, and what I’ve always done. I’ve always been guided by the same values. I have always listened to people. And I’ve always worked as hard as I could to produce results for people.”

Clinton later made a direct plea to young people at a party dinner, saying she was glad they were involved, whether or not they supported her. She noted that “you are bringing energy, ideas and urgency to our process.”

Sanders has fed some people’s concerns about trusting Clinton while picking his fights carefully.

For example, he gave her a pass on her past email practices. But he has gone after her for taking Wall Street money, letting a political action committee raise millions to help her and for not being liberal enough, in his view.

He has called her out for claiming to be a moderate earlier in the campaign, only to joust with him now over who’s the true “progressive.” The shift in rhetoric may raise questions about who and what Clinton really is.

“One of the things we should do is not only talk the talk, but walk the walk,” Sanders said in Thursday night’s debate.

Clinton has accused Sanders of “cherry-picking” from her past comments and said his questions about her Wall Street ties amount to “very artful smear.”

National polls suggest Clinton has a strong lead over Sanders, despite her lagging position in New Hampshire, and her campaign seems confident she will perform better in South Carolina and elsewhere.

While Sanders is laser-focused on income inequality and the behavior of the financial sector, Clinton has struggled to define what her campaign is about at its core.

She has criticized Sanders for health care and education proposals that she says are unrealistic. She has released a detailed policy plans and styled herself as the right person to carry on President Barack Obama’s legacy. Recently, she has started flavoring her speeches with some of the economic populism for which Sanders is known.

“I think she’s paid her dues,” said Clemence Cote, 54, of Derry. “I think she’s a strong person.”

Associated Press News Survey Specialist Emily Swanson contributed to this report from Washington.

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