Hillary Clinton Faces Uphill Fight for White, Rural Vote

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from The Wall Street Journal,

Interviews in Arkansas Suggest Leeriness of State’s Former First Lady.

White, working-class voters in eastern Arkansas for years backed Democratic candidates, among them Bill Clinton and outgoing Gov. Mike Beebe, but have moved sharply toward Republicans in recent elections.

Now, as the 2016 election takes shape, some of Hillary Clinton ’s allies are trumpeting her potential as a presidential candidate to bring these voters back to the Democratic Party and to run competitively in a handful of states, including Arkansas, that have spurned President Barack Obama .

But even here, where Mrs. Clinton was the state’s first lady, many voters say they view her with the same leeriness they do Mr. Obama and other national Democrats. That points to a significant question should Mrs. Clinton run: whether enough such voters can separate her from the national party many have grown to dislike.

“I’m mad at the Democratic Party, and I don’t see Hillary changing that,” said Eddie Ciganek, a 61-year-old farmer who serves on Prairie County’s governing board and who has voted Democrat at times. “Her thinking isn’t going to be very far off from President Obama’s thinking, and I don’t think they’re moving the country in the right direction.”

Occasional Democratic voter Johnny Watkins, 64, wearing a light-blue work shirt after finishing his shift at the county landfill, said of Mrs. Clinton: “I don’t think she has any concerns about us.”

Working-class voters have long been a bedrock of Democratic support, and the party continues to do well with voters from lower-income households overall, according to exit polls.

But white, more rural voters in the South and elsewhere have been fleeing the party. Just five years ago, Arkansas Democrats held both Senate seats, three out of four House seats, the governor’s office and control of both chambers of the state legislature. The election in November of Republicans Tom Cotton to the U.S. Senate and Asa Hutchinson to the governor’s office will leave the Democratic Party without a single federal or statewide officeholder in Arkansas, a state that Bill Clinton carried twice by at least 17 percentage points.

Mrs. Clinton’s allies are confident she can attract white voters who have turned away from her party, particularly women. Democratic pollster Geoff Garin, who worked on her 2008 campaign, said she “demonstrated a significant ability to not only win votes from working-class white women but to connect with them on a personal level.”

After a rocky start in that campaign, Mrs. Clinton cast herself as a scrappy underdog and union ally while topping Mr. Obama in more than 20 states in Democratic primaries in places such as Pennsylvania and Ohio that have many white, working-class voters.

Recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News polling shows that Mrs. Clinton’s appeal among those voters has withered.

In June 2008, Mrs. Clinton was viewed positively by 43% of whites without college degrees and negatively by 44%. Last month, 32% of that group held a positive view and 48% had a negative view. Her image among those voters is only slightly better than that of Mr. Obama.

“The Democratic Party is in terrible shape with white, working-class voters, and there’s no evidence that Hillary Clinton brings anything unique to the table,” said Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who helps direct Journal/NBC News polling.

At the same time, Mrs. Clinton draws substantial support from white women overall and from suburban women. Narrow majorities of those groups said in a December Journal/NBC News survey that they would consider supporting Mrs. Clinton for president, putting her far ahead of seven potential Republican candidates and Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

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