Hillary Clinton's Achilles' heel, and how she hopes to fix it.

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
June 27 2007 9:33 AM

Hillary's Achilles' Heel

Is Sen. Clinton warm enough to win?

This is the second  in a series of articles about each presidential candidate's Achilles' heel. A companion video to this story appears on Slate V.

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Will any of this solve Clinton's problem? Maybe a little, but every attempt to make Clinton appear more real can backfire and reinforce the very image it hopes to fix. Clinton's forced early Web videos, in which she offered voters a chance to engage in a "conversation" with her, were so inauthentic in their determined effort to show authenticity they were used in the famous guerilla attack video in which she played Big Brother in the parody of an Apple Macintosh ad based on George Orwell's 1984.

Clinton's hard work and hustle will lure voters more than the efforts to humanize her. That's what worked so well for her in her first Senate race, says Bill Dal Col, the campaign manager of Clinton's Republican opponent in the 2000. "She grew on people," he says of her famous "listening tour" in which she traveled around the state. Because of GOP efforts, New Yorkers expected her to be an "empress. [That] she would walk in, and it would be handed to her. Then they saw, oh wow, she really does want this. This isn't a show. That comes through. People were surprised."

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The best evidence that Clinton can overcome her past may be that despite living in Washington for the last 14 years and competing against Barack Obama, who is the walking embodiment of freshness, Democratic voters nevertheless view Clinton as the candidate of change. That's a nifty trick, and it didn't happen because she produced a snappy Web video.

There is a lot of Clinton baggage, and though two recent biographies don't appear to have caused any big problems for the campaign, there is a lot of material for her opponents and enemies to use against her. But if there was ever an election where voters should care less about a candidate's softer qualities, this should be the one. Seventy percent of the public thinks the country is going in the wrong direction, and America is engaged in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. A country starving for competence after the Bush presidency could easily embrace a candidate who always shows up thoroughly prepared. In the polls where Clinton tanks on the likability questions, she still comes out ahead among Democrats and still beats potential GOP rivals among all voters. After the last Democratic debate in early June, voters didn't find Clinton any more huggable, but in one focus group her favorability increased by 21 points over the course of the two-hour forum. All her supporters may not love her, but they respect her, and that matters more.