Does Hillary Clinton have a serious 2016 image problem?
At a comparable stage in the 2000 presidential election cycle, the polls said George W. Bush would beat Al Gore in a landslide. On Election Day, roughly a year and a half later, the Texan lost the national popular vote but won the White House after a bitterly divided Supreme Court weeks later declared him the winner in Florida.
So we give the latest Quinnipiac University swing state poll numbers the required skepticism. Yet they do highlight a potentially worrisome image trend that appeared in the spring. Should it prove unchangeable, Clinton would likely lose Virginia, along with the presidency, to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Marco Rubio, Fla., or Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — the only four who currently qualify as credible GOP presidential candidates.
Why these four? Like New Yorker Clinton, each can reasonably claim to satisfy the iron law of presidential politics: No candidate has won the White House while losing the state launching his career in elected office.
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The home-state rule is especially critical to the GOP in 2016. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney carried Texas and 23 other states with 206 electoral votes in 2012 (while losing the Bay State). He won 20 by double-digit margins. Of the four others — Arizona, Georgia, Missouri and North Carolina — he won the first three handily. North Carolina went to the GOP by 2 percent.
All these states seem winnable next year by any number of GOP presidential hopefuls.
But Quinnipiac shows Clinton with a poor image in supposedly Democratic-leaning Iowa (6 electoral votes) and in an especially weak position in Colorado (9 electoral votes), where Centennial State voters give her a nearly 2-to-1 negative rating on being honest and trustworthy.
What happens if Clinton’s image problems persist?
Enter Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s, D, 2013 campaign playbook. Team McAuliffe waged a brutally effective no-holds-barred attack campaign against opponent Ken Cuccinelli, then the state’s attorney general. McAuliffe’s strategy destroyed Cuccinelli’s image with key swing voters.
According to Quinnipiac, these swing voters rate Clinton as unfavorably now as they did Cuccinelli then. Is this permanent? This much we do know: Her current campaign chief, Robby Mook, ran McAuliffe’s gubernatorial bid. Eschewing the positive about McAuliffe to focus on relentlessly negative character attacks on Cuccinelli made perfect strategic sense. It hurt McAuliffe’s image too, but proved to be a price worth paying. The badly outspent Cuccinelli still only narrowly lost.
Norman Leahy is an editor of bearingdrift.com and producer of the Score radio show. Paul Goldman is a former senior adviser to Virginia Governors Doug Wilder and Mark Warner. This is excerpted from washingtonpost.com/blogs/all-opinions-are-local