Hillary Clinton faces a challenge in voters’ trust

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton reacts as she arrives at the Iowa Statehouse to meet with Democratic Party lawmakers, Wednesday, April 15, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton reacts as she arrives at the Iowa Statehouse to meet with Democratic Party lawmakers, Wednesday, April 15, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. AP

Hillary Clinton might have a problem with voters such as Linda Deitz.

A registered Democrat and a hypnotist with her own small business in Des Moines, Deitz supported Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. But Hillary Clinton is a different story.

“I don’t trust Hillary at all,” said Dietz, who’s 64. “I think Hillary is out for Hillary.”

In fact, a plurality of Iowa voters say Clinton is not honest and trustworthy, according to a recent Quinnipiac University Poll. It’s worse in the swing states of Colorado and Virginia, where an outright majority say she’s not honest and trustworthy.

The numbers are similar to a previous Quinnipiac poll in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, as well as some national polls. A recent ABC News-Washington Post poll, for example, found that Americans think by 64-32 percent that she’s a strong leader, about the same solid margin as in past years. But they think she’s honest by 46-46 percent, their trust down 7 points from last year.

It’s not universal, of course. Plenty of voters think Clinton is honest and is just being smeared by Republicans. But it’s getting worse for her in recent months, and it underscores a major challenge for her candidacy, if not for the Democratic nomination, then in the general election.

Iowa is a key state in both contests, and voters there signal the reason that Clinton is slipping: questions about her use of private email while secretary of state or beliefs that she failed to respond adequately to the furor that followed.

“I think she’s dishonest and has been dishonest with the country about her emails,” said Doris Devaney, 54, of Cedar Rapids, a likely Republican voter whose family owns an industrial pipe business.

Clinton ignored reporters’ questions Wednesday about her emails at an event in Iowa amid new revelations that she didn’t respond to a congressional inquiry two years ago about whether she used a private email account.

“It’s out there and she has to answer it,” said Christopher Larimer, a political science associate professor at the University of Northern Iowa, who noted that some Iowa Democrats remain frustrated by how Clinton has handled the email situation.

Clinton said at a news conference last month that she regretted using a private email account and computer server, had done so only as a matter of convenience and hadn’t thought the arrangement would cause any problems.

Republicans accuse her of hiding something. The House of Representatives committee that’s investigating the 2012 fatal attacks in Benghazi, Libya, has subpoenaed her emails while asking that she voluntarily turn over her email server to a “neutral, detached and independent” third party.

Clinton’s attorney told the committee that she’d permanently deleted all emails from the private server, apparently after the State Department asked her to turn them over, and that she refused to turn over the server.

“It is difficult to see Secretary Clinton’s slippage as anything other than a further toll on her image from the furor over her email,” said Peter Brown, the assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.

In Iowa, voters said by 49-43 percent that they thought she wasn’t honest or trustworthy, Quinnipiac found. In Virginia, they thought she was dishonest by 52-40 percent. And in Colorado, they thought she wasn’t honest by 56-38.

By comparison, a plurality of voters in the same states thought two potential Republican candidates were honest and trustworthy, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. That might change, though, as they’re less known, and each had a far higher number of voters with no opinion yet on his honesty.

Does it matter? Voters are split on whether the email controversy is important.

In Iowa, 50 percent called the issue important, and 37 percent said the emails made it less likely that they’d vote for Clinton. But that includes Republicans, who probably would vote against her anyway in the general election.

Don Hirt, 60, who works at a historical museum in Des Moines and lives in Eldora, 70 miles away, said Republicans were just trying to discredit her.

“I think they just glom on to anything . . . they can glom on to. It’s just to stir things up,” he said. “I think it’s pretty silly.”

Emily Howington, 25, who works at FedEx in Cedar Rapids and is considering voting for Clinton, said she thought Clinton was being unfairly attacked because she was a woman and was married to a former president.

“My opinion on politics is people pry too much,” she said.

Quinnipiac’s Brown said the email issue was hurting hurt Clinton because “almost everybody has an email address. Everybody knows the technology.” But, he said, those concerns don’t mean she can’t win. “People may question her trustworthiness, but they don’t question her competence,” he said.

David Lightman contributed to this article from Washington.

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