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Big rallies or quiet voters? Is Clinton low on enthusiasm?

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    In this May 11, 2016 file photo, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign rally in Blackwood, N.J. For Clinton, whether she is competing against Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump, one concern is much the same. They are outsider candidates riding a wave of populist excitement, while she is viewed as a traditional, establishment choice. As a result, her campaign sometimes just looks a little less exciting.

DES MOINES, Iowa >> Rock concert rallies versus intimate town halls. Adoring groupies versus dutiful voters. Sweeping promises versus targeted proposals.

Whether Hillary Clinton is competing against Democratic rival Bernie Sanders or presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, one concern is much the same. They are outsider candidates riding a wave of populist excitement, while she is viewed as a traditional, establishment choice.

As a result, her campaign sometimes just looks a little less exciting.

Clinton has won far more votes than any other 2016 candidate. But if she moves into a general election matchup with Trump, she may continue to be dogged by questions about voter enthusiasm, especially as Trump pledges to continue his raucous rallies.

Clinton’s supporters say they are not worried.

“Big crowds mean nothing,” said former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell. “You don’t get extra points for an enthusiastic vote versus a moderately enthusiastic vote.”

Still, the differences are clear.

In recent days, Sanders rallied with roughly 4,000 in Salem, Oregon, and Trump drew thousands in Bellingham, Washington. Clinton held a rally with over 1,000 people in New Jersey, but also spoke about family issues at a gathering with about 15 in northern Virginia.

Trump’s large crowds were good for more than his ego. They helped him power past his numerous rivals and to the verge of clinching the nomination as Clinton continues mopping up against her last remaining challenger.

“I think the rallies for Trump are the demonstration of his appeal as I think the rallies for Sanders are the demonstration of his appeal,” said Republican pollster Greg Strimple. He added that Sanders’ crowds have exposed some of Clinton’s weaknesses and he would not have generated that energy “if the Democrats were so enamored of her candidacy.”

Republican strategist Sara Fagen, who has not backed Trump, says Clinton “doesn’t have a movement. She has a base of people that will show up, but they’re not overly energized.” Still, Fagen said a general election may be more challenging for Trump, noting that his success so far has been in a crowded primary.

“There’s no doubt Trump is energizing an element of the electorate,” she said. “But some people are showing up not to support him as well. He’s divisive.”

Crowd counts are just one measure of excitement. Polling suggests that the competitive Democratic race has energized voters, and exit polls find enthusiasm for Clinton as well as Sanders. About 2 in 5 primary voters were enthusiastic about their party’s front-runner in a recent CNN poll.

Both Clinton and Trump have negative favorability ratings among general election voters. But Trump’s negatives with people of all backgrounds are at historic highs, suggesting he may have difficulty connecting with a broad cross-section of voters in November.

Sanders and Trump have reveled in their large crowds as evidence of the power of their message. During a recent interview with The Associated Press, Trump said the huge rallies would continue to be a centerpiece of his campaign. He argued that the excitement and momentum were more important than spending heavily in a sophisticated data operation to turn out voters.

“My coalition of voters is amazing,” Trump said. “You know, we don’t get enough credit. First of all, I have the biggest crowds by far. I have the most loyal voters by far.”

Clinton, who shines in more intimate interactions, stressed early in the campaign that she wanted to engage with voters at smaller venues. She is on track to wrap up the nomination within weeks and is increasingly focusing on Trump as she tries to replicate the kind of data-heavy approach that helped Barack Obama win presidential elections in 2008 and 2012.

Clinton also struggled with the enthusiasm gap when she ran against Obama in the 2008 primary. Obama held huge rallies and captured much of the popular imagination and enthusiasm. Rendell said he did not think 2016 would pose the same problems because the “fear and loathing” of anti-Trump voters will drive turnout.

Democratic pollster Geoff Garin, a strategist for a super political action committee supporting Clinton’s candidacy, acknowledged “there is a lot of emotion around Donald Trump’s candidacy” but contended that cuts both ways.

Trump will be a “lightning rod for motivating Democratic voters to engage in the race and turn out in November in a way that counters whatever enthusiasm he creates on the other side,” Garin said.

Whatever happens, Democratic consultant Joe Trippi said dealing with Sanders and his rallies may help Clinton.

“They may just have to get used to hearing everybody whine about ‘but he’d got all these crowds,’” Trippi said. “Maybe this is good practice, the primary. There’s no evidence that any of this matters.”

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  • Don’t get dizzy with all the spinning AP.

    15 in VA???? There are more people at the morgue in Iwilei. You should be getting very worried.

    If she didn’t buy off the “super delegates”, she’d be out of it already. Bernie’s supporters won’t be taking this lying down. You keep saying the pubs are splitting apart, but you better pay attention to what’s going on in the dem party. The new youngsters are taking over and you old establishment dinosaurs better get out of the way.

  • Poor Hillary has a problem. She sold out to the right years ago and now is facing someone from the left. Good for her. Perhaps next time she will listen when she is warned about endless war.

  • “Clinton, who shines in more intimate interactions, stressed early in the campaign that she wanted to engage with voters at smaller venues.” Right. That is when she and people hand-picked by her campaign sit around a table discuss pre-determine topics of Hillary’s choosing. One such touchy-touchy-feely-feely session backfired recently when an out-of-work coal miner in West Virginia was selected as a participant and broadsided (pun intended) Hillary about wanting to close down coal mines and put coal miners out of work, but almost all of Hillary’s small venue gatherings have gone as she and her handlers wanted.

  • The “Elites” Democrats and Republicans initially figured that their opponents wasn’t a threat to them. So today…. We have 2 “Outsiders” nobody thought in their wildest dream would be leading in the Popular votes; Bernie Sanders and of course Donald Trump . Donald on the other hand (Hands down) not won only with popular votes,but the delegate count as well….. The Presumptive GOP nominee!
    However, I do believe Bernie Sanders was merely a Plant.( Thanks to Debbie Wasserman Schultz) WHY?….to merely create an illusion.
    The Illusion of a level playing field in the Democrat party.A shoe in which,so to speak,which has failed big time with Bernie’s rise in the polls.
    Head to Head in popular votes?? Bernie would surly win.

    The same could be said for The Donald……
    Reince Preibus and the Republican party and his 17 opponents,thought that Donald was a Flash in the Pan! Wrong again! Now they are double talking ,re-sinding their signed agreement with Donald. Which has caused?Another Failure….. by the “Elites”.
    All Americans should be concerned,because now we have the Electoral votes coming in the Generals, who are also in the tank with “Elites”. I can see why so many American Voters today,see that it is pointless to even cast a vote. IMUA

  • The Clinton campaign tried to generate Bernie-size crowds and failed. So they reasoned pretty much along the lines this article suggests. Thus, in WV they stuck to small, intimate soirees at people’s homes … and … lost by double digits.

    We really should nominate the candidate who scores twice the margin against Drumpf that HRC’s been able to manage. Is that such a difficult concept, choosing the candidate who has the best shot of winning?

  • In a sane world this woman would would never have been considered for the highest office in the land. Like little Barry she has no substance or real accomplishments to showcase. What she does have is a boatload of ethical baggage dating back decades. Whitewater, cattle futures, travelgate, Vince Foster, etc. Lets not forget the many lives she ruined in covering up her husband’s extramarital dalliances. More recently the Benghazii debacle, mishandling of classified information, private server, etc. The woman is an angry, condescending, truth challenged, totalitarian progressive. She has taken millions in “speaking fees” from ultra-rich donors both domestic and foreign. Donald Trump is a boy scout by comparison. Yes, there is a giant enthusiasm gap for Mrs. Clinton but the democrats are stuck with her.

  • The 2016 election has turned into a huge “whatever.” Choose the corporate candidate you want most. You’ve been presented with an alternative, but can’t leave your corporate candidate, like hoarders with their useless junk.

  • When it comes to Hillary it is more like vocal disgust, unless you think that giving billions to the Clinton Global initiative is not pay to play.

  • hiliar’s life long legacy of corruption, self promoting lies, predatory conduct towards bill’s sexual assault victims, looting of white house artifacts, imperialistic treatment of staff, an eerie history of suicides of former business partners and lovers some of whom turned whistleblowers, and her numerous felony mishandling and sharing of classified information using private communications are all part of a ubiquitous obnoxious clinton family code of conduct that the public rejects as hiliar’s repeated attempts at denial fail the light of truth.

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