Voters Have Doubts About Clinton

Anna Shelley, a mother of three from Utah, says she is ready for a female president, and she is sure that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has what it takes.

But Shelley, a Democrat, is not sure she could ever pull a lever for Clinton. Her reservations are vague but unmistakable: Something about Clinton leaves her cold.

"I want to see her as a human being -- I can read a newspaper and see her agenda," said Shelley, 27, whose husband did a tour in Iraq and who is appreciative of Clinton's support of the military.

"I think she's a little hard," she said. "She may be strong, but at the same time, if you're driven sometimes you're perceived as not having sympathy. And perception is reality for most of us."

Clinton's assets are formidable: an unrivaled ability to generate publicity and money, and approval ratings that are notably strong, given her polarizing reputation and the controversies she has weathered over 15 years in the national eye. In recent public opinion polls, she handily leads potential Democratic rivals.

Beneath these positives, however, there is evidence of unease -- about her personal history, demeanor and motives -- among the very Democratic and independent voters she would need to win the presidency.

A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll highlighted the paradox. Fifty-four percent of those responding view her favorably, and a significant majority give her high marks for leadership (68 percent), strong family values (65 percent), and being open and friendly (58 percent). At the same time, only 37 percent of Democrats in the poll say they would definitely vote for her for president.

A Gallup poll from last summer also highlighted a perception that she is too divisive, with 53 percent of respondents saying they do not view her as someone who would "unite the country and not divide it."

Follow-up interviews with skeptical Democrats and independents who participated in the Post-ABC News poll suggest that many view her as an inscrutable public figure who gets high marks for her ability and intellect but who nonetheless gives them pause because they find it difficult to relate to her on a personal level.

"The reason I am not able to say I am strongly supportive of her is because -- and this is just vibes -- she does not project a sense of what is inside of her like her husband did," said Sam Hack, 59, a self-described liberal Democrat from St. Louis.

"There's no question she's competent and very intelligent, but people want to see authentic human beings, and she has overly managed herself," said Peter Brooks, 68, a professor of English at the University of Virginia and a liberal Democrat who has an unfavorable view of Clinton.

Still, supporters say the powerful scrutiny she faces means that, far more than the typical politician, she has little room for public error or spontaneity, since even casual comments often draw national headlines. In addition, some political analysts believe that politicians who are women must work harder to be perceived as strong and serious.

Finally, those who have worked with her say that, unlike her husband, who easily conveys empathy and familiarity, Clinton is instinctively more reserved and harder to get to know.

Brian Tripplett, 47, a Democrat and a United Parcel Service manager from Kentucky, says he has a strongly unfavorable view of Clinton based on impressions 15 years old. "It seems that her public image is different from her private image. It bothered me when I read she was verbally abusive to employees," he said.

Valerie Herzig, 42, an independent from California who leans Democratic, said in the survey that she has an unfavorable view of Clinton, largely because she doesn't have a feel for her. "You hear a lot about her, but you don't hear from her," Herzig said in an interview. "My impression when she was 'Mrs. Clinton' was that she was the driver in the family. . . . But I have no idea what she's been doing for the past five years."

"I was just talking to my friends about this," said Jeny Guy, 55, a registered independent from Falls Church, who expressed a "favorable" view of Clinton but said she would not vote for her. "I find her too stiff and packaged."

"I guess she would do a good job, but I just don't think she can get the votes," said Julie Troy of Michigan, who describes herself as an independent and a liberal but says she definitely would not vote for Clinton. "I find that men don't like her and that's a problem. . . . I don't think we're ready for her."

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