Society

With More Baggage And More Scandal, Hillary Clinton's Worse Off Than She Was In 2008

| by Nik Bonopartis
Hillary ClintonHillary Clinton

She's broken the law by sending unencrypted classified documents via a private email server. She's shown repeated contempt for Americans' right to know what's happening in their government. She threw a tantrum when lawmakers tried to hold her accountable for ignoring repeated pleas for more security in Benghazi. And as Secretary of State, she worked to further the interests of foreign groups who donated large sums of money to the Clinton Foundation.

Despite all that, and the fact that polls show 52 percent of Americans view her unfavorably, Hillary Clinton insists she's a better candidate in 2016 than she was in 2008.

"The months I’ve spent here listening to Iowans makes me a better candidate," the Democratic presidential front-runner told ABC News on Feb. 1, hoping a bit of last-minute flattery will butter up Iowa voters and convince them to pull the lever for her.

She'll need every bit of help she can get. All the campaigning, debates and attack ads have led to this moment, with Iowa kicking off primary season on Feb. 1. While front-runner Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas are atop the Iowa polls on the Republican side, Clinton and challenger Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont are in a tight race, with both of them leading in the polls at various points in the lead-up to the primary.

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Still, even if she wins, Clinton must contend with some troubling numbers for her campaign: A Jan. 24 CBS poll found that while 91 percent of Iowa voters believe Sanders would side with them over the interests of big-time donors, 57 percent believe Clinton would put big donors ahead of voters if she's elected president.

Those results mirror a larger problem for Clinton, which is that polls consistently find Americans do not find her trustworthy. As expected, Clinton fares better among Democrats, but if she earns her party's nomination and moves on to the general election, it will be her job to worry about what Independents think of her and to convince them to place their trust in her.

She may receive inadvertent help from the other side of the aisle, as Republican candidates seem locked in a battle to say the most outrageous things and, as the saying goes, prove to their base that they're to the right of Genghis Khan.

All the same, it's difficult to argue that Clinton is in better shape now than she was at the same point in 2008. Back then she was also the front-runner, but she was more than that -- she was the presumed victor for her party's nomination and the general election, the candidate Americans would turn to after eight years of George W. Bush's administration and Republican fatigue. She was heir to the throne, her victory an eventuality and formality.

That was before a little-known senator from Illinois vaulted over her with an unprecedented level of excitement among voters, leaving her stunned. Looking back at President Barack Obama's historic win, it's easy to forget how strong Clinton's position was, and how far she had fallen in losing to a law professor and community activist who hadn't even served a full senate term.

While the Clinton campaign undoubtedly learned many lessons in 2008, and took steps to make sure the mistakes of the campaign would never be repeated, that election cycle also proved that Clinton could be defeated, that her nomination was not an eventuality, and that traditionally skittish voting blocs like young people could be coaxed to the polls if they're sufficiently excited about a candidate.

Sanders is no Obama. He isn't delivering monumental speeches to hundreds of thousands of admirers or making grand promises in lofty terms. Yet he does have a strong, committed base of supporters who are passionate about him.

However, Clinton's biggest foe is herself. Other candidates would kill for her name recognition but not her baggage. There are only so many times a candidate can claim to be a victim of a "vast right-wing conspiracy," and Clinton's treatment of women who accused her husband of sexual advances may alienate her female supporters.

She's also been dogged by the monthly release of her State Department emails, generating headlines every time a new batch is released.

And we can be sure Republican candidates are not going to let voters forget the millions she and her husband have made from speeches, or the tens of millions donated to the Clinton Foundation by Saudis, Russians and others who likely expect their donations will buy influence.

But ultimately, only one thing matters: Whether Clinton can convince voters she's the best person for the job.

Sources: ABC News, Real Clear Politics, Huffington Post Pollster, CBS News / Photo source: Wikimedia Commons, US Embassy/Flickr