By Karl Rove
Her rollout has been odd and lackluster, but swing voters care more about vision and ideas.
To bond with “everyday” Americans, Hillary Clinton left her million-dollar Chappaqua, N.Y., mansion Sunday in the “Scooby-Do Mystery Machine” van, bound for Iowa. It was déjà vu all over again: In 1999 she started her U.S. Senate campaign by driving around upstate New York in a van also called “Scooby.”
The new van’s leather interior, 29-inch flat-screen TV with Blu-ray, and a power sofa that converts into a bed won’t turn Mrs. Clinton into America’s middle-class granny, especially after the salesman who helped deliver it explained, “It’s very luxurious.”
There’s a weirdness to this trip, a lack of excitement and purpose that seems a metaphor for Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. The principal photo op Monday was courtesy of a Chipotle’s surveillance camera in Maumee, Ohio, that caught her and senior adviser Huma Abedin in dark glasses ordering lunch, looking like they were on the lam.
Ms. Abedin was an interesting traveling companion. Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley has asked why she drew a $135,000 State Department salary as a top aide to Secretary Clinton while getting special dispensation to simultaneously take $355,000 more from Teneo, a public-affairs shop—founded by a former aide to President Bill Clinton—that supplies political intelligence and advice to U.S. and foreign companies. The State Department Inspector General announced Friday that he is investigating the issue.
On Tuesday Mrs. Clinton arrived in Iowa for visits to a restaurant and a garage where she read heartfelt talking points off heartfelt prepared notes. No tough questions from national reporters, just softballs from supporters. CNN’s Brianna Keilar reported Iowans “were perplexed” she didn’t talk with people Tuesday, undermining Mrs. Clinton’s woman-of-the-people narrative. She says she doesn’t feel entitled to the presidency, but apparently she feels entitled to campaign in a cocoon.
Whatever the Scooby van trip’s merits, it’s unlikely to overcome the challenges facing Mrs. Clinton detailed in a wide-ranging survey of likely voters in 15 battleground states conducted for Crossroads GPS, a 501(c)(4) issue-advocacy group I volunteer with.
The poll shows Mrs. Clinton losing to a generic Republican in these states, 43% to 44%. In 2012 Mitt Romney won three of them, Barack Obama 12. If those survey numbers held up on Election Day 2016, she would lose the majority of their 170 electoral votes—and with them, the White House.
The GPS poll found Mrs. Clinton is universally well known with 49% viewing her favorably and 44% unfavorably. These declined to 44% favorable, 51% unfavorable when respondents were read positive and negative statements about her record.
While Mrs. Clinton’s hard-core support base makes her a formidable candidate, she has little room to grow. Those who oppose her are many and feel strongly while undecided voters appear to lean against rather than for her, and it’s hard to get a first introduction with voters for the third or fourth time.
Battleground state voters are sharply split about whether Mrs. Clinton is honest and trustworthy, with 49% agreeing and 49% disagreeing. But 35% strongly disagree while 22% strongly agree.
Six out of 10 voters say Mrs. Clinton would do or say anything to get elected and nearly half say she doesn’t share their values. Problematically, with an electorate demanding change, 71% of battleground state voters believe she would continue Mr. Obama’s policies.
The poll also suggests stressing she would be the first woman president could create problems. Among women, Mrs. Clinton leads a generic Republican by only two points—45% to 43%—while losing men by four points, 41% to 45%. Only women from households with $100,000+ a year incomes found the prospect of her as the first woman president persuasive. Meanwhile, 80% of all voters say it makes no difference.
There’s also an important warning for Republicans in the GPS survey. Among the plurality in these battleground states who support a generic Republican over Mrs. Clinton, 51% say their vote would be for the Republican candidate’s ideas and policies while 37% said their vote would be against Mrs. Clinton.
These voters already know and have essentially rejected Mrs. Clinton. Most undecided voters appear inclined to reject her as well. But they all want to know the vision and ideas of the Republican candidates, delivered with passion, sincerity and authenticity.
GOP candidates who excel at explaining their vision are more likely to gain voters’ support than candidates whose main purpose is attacking Mrs. Clinton, something Republicans should keep in mind as they select their nominee.
Mr. Rove, a former deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush, helped organize the political-action committee American Crossroads.