“You’re likable enough, Hillary.”
How times have changed since then-Sen. Barack Obama made that remark in a televised debate ahead of the 2008 New Hampshire primaries. Back then, more of the public preferred Obama over rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. In a poll conducted soon after Obama gave that backhanded compliment, 54 percent said they had a favorable opinion of Clinton compared to 63 percent for Obama. The Democrats, and eventually the nation, decided that Obama was the more popular one, as demonstrated by his later primary successes and two presidential election victories.
But six years later, the popularity ratings of Obama vs. Clinton have reversed. According to a Quinnipiac University survey of Ohio voters released last week, things are pretty bad for President Obama in the Buckeye State. He has a 36 percent approval ratiung and a 59 percent disapproval rating. Clinton fairs better – she leads a handful of potential 2016 presidential opponents, including popular home-state givernor John Kasich (R).
“The bad news for Democrats is that President Obama’s approval rating in Ohio is close to his all-time, all-state low. The good news for the party is that the president doesn’t appear to be hurting the Democrats’ consensus front-runner for 2016, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,” said Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown in the polling memo.
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Ohio, a perennial swing state, is fertile ground for Clinton ahead of a possible 2016 run for president. She sports a plus-9 net favorable rating. And she beats four potential GOP foes in head-to-head matchups, according to the poll: Clinton tops Kasich 47 percent to 40 percent; she gets past Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky 46 percent to 42 percent; she bests former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush 48 percent to 37 percent; and she tops New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie 46 percent to 37 percent.
Other polls reinforce the Quinnipiac findings. At the beginning of 2014, 49 percent said in a Washington Post-ABC poll that they held a favorable opinion of Obama, but 58 percent said the same for Clinton. Although Clinton’s favorable ratings have fallen by nine points since Clinton resigned as secretary of state, her new popularity suggests she has weathered the scrutiny and strains of high political office better than the president has.
Clinton is now seen by the public as the stronger leader. A CNN/ORC poll carried out last month offered a direct comparison of the characteristics of both politicians, and in every category, Clinton beats Obama. By double-digit leads, Clinton is seen by more people as a decisive leader and able to manage government effectively. More people also believe Clinton “generally agrees with you on issues you care about,” cares about “people like you,” and shares “your values.” Although it’s not a direct comparison, the same poll puts Clinton on a 59 percent job approval rating from her time as secretary of state. Obama has a 41 percent approval rating.
Some of the groups that have felt alienated by the Obama presidency are being won over by Clinton. Take Wall Street, always one of the president’s most complicated relationships. Although Wall Street financiers raised more than $12 million during Obama’s last campaign, few financiers appear to have much love for the president. It was his administration that pushed the Dodd-Frank banking overhaul into law, and Obama said recently that “further reforms” are required. As one banker put it to CNN Money: “There’s been so much finger pointing. He’s made it seem bad to be successful and to be millionaires and billionaires.”
But Clinton has cultivated a warmer relationship with Wall Street. She spoke last month at the Ameriprise Financial Conference in Boston – adding to her frequent visits to Goldman Sachs and to investors such as those from the Carlyle Group. Going back to 1999, Clinton backed the repeal of the Glass-Steagall banking law, which some, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a potential 2016 candidate, believe played a part in the financial crisis. Clinton’s popularity on Wall Street may help her against Republicans if the GOP chooses an openly critical candidate in 2016, such as Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky or Ted Cruz of Texas. But Jeb Bush might pose more of a threat; a top Republican lawyer recently told Politico that he would “love” a Clinton vs. Bush race in 2016, as “either outcome would be fine.”
On foreign policy, look for Clinton to contrast her more hawkish tendencies with the Obama administration’s approach. During an interview on CNN last week, Clinton appeared to criticize the Obama administration’s interactions with other nations. “How do we try to enlist the rest of the world in this struggle between cooperation and order and conflict and disorder, which is really at the root of so much that’s going on today? And I don’t think we’ve done a very good job of that,” she said. She also noted the popularity of George W. Bush in Africa because of his efforts to battle AIDS there.
Clinton’s message was clear when she was secretary of state: “The United States is back.” She was keener to intervene in Libya, favored keeping troops on the ground in Iraq and infamously voted for invading Iraq in 2002, before trying to distance herself from that vote during the 2008 presidential primaries.
Obama has sought to end wars and bring troops home. Last month, the president said that U.S. troops could not solve Iraq’s problems and that it’s up to Iraqis to work out a solution.
While Obama has taken flak for what some call his administration’s use of “soft power,” Clinton has skillfully managed to separate herself from the president, despite once being a key part of his team and directing U.S. foreign policy.
There is, however, still a chance that Clinton’s legacy will haunt her. Whit Ayres, a GOP pollster, believes Clinton will be held accountable for her actions, should she run in 2016. “Her record with Benghazi and her tenure as secretary of state will continue to be judged,” he says. “Clinton has gone from a diplomatic bipartisan position of representing the country to a quasi-political presidential canidate. The performance in her most recent job will still be a critical factor.”