Outgoing White House political adviser Karl Rove says Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's polarizing nature and growing public disapproval of the Democrat-led Congress will make it difficult for the Democrats to capture the presidency in 2008, despite the Republicans' low polling numbers.
"She enters the primary season with the highest negatives of any front-runner since the history of polling began," said Mr. Rove on CBS' "Face the Nation" yesterday. "She has more people who have an unfavorable impression of her than have a favorable impression. And that's not just in one poll, but in multiple polls."
Mr. Rove, who said he believes Mrs. Clinton will win the Democratic presidential nomination, added the former first lady will have great difficulty convincing Republicans or undecided voters to trust her with their vote.
"People have made an opinion about her," Mr. Rove said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "It's hard to change opinions once you've been a high-profile person in the public eye, as she has, for 16 or 17 years."
The New York senator continues to hold a strong lead over her chief rivals for the 2008 Democratic nomination. But she also draws the highest negative ratings of any of the Democratic contenders when pollsters ask voters if they have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of each candidate.
A USA Today/Gallup survey conducted Aug. 3-5 found that 49 percent of the 1,012 Americans polled said they had an unfavorable opinion of her, while 47 percent were favorable. The margin of error was three percentage points.
Gallup has asked the unfavorable/favorable question throughout the year, and since March the unfavorable numbers for Mrs. Clinton have varied little, rising to 52 percent in April but dropping to 50 percent in June and mostly remaining at 48 percent or 49 percent since.
These high unfavorable scores in national presidential approval polls have raised concerns in her party that she could hurt Democratic candidates in close congressional and local races if she is the nominee next year.
Despite her double-digit lead over the rest of the Democratic field, "the 'Hillary hostility' factor is constant and feeds doubts about whether she can win in November 2008. That polling perennial — her unfavorability factor — remains high," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
"Hillary would be a drag on races lower on the ballot," wrote Markos Moulitsas earlier this year on his fiery liberal political blog, Daily Kos. "In fact, her potential nomination is already creating all sorts of headaches for Senate and House recruitment efforts in tough states and districts. This is a dynamic not at play with any of the other serious candidates."
Writing in the National Journal late last month, Marc Ambinder reported that "some Democrats fret about state legislators in marginal districts."
"And several freshman members of Congress have told their political consultants that they're not quite sure what impact Clinton will have," he wrote.
Concerns about her persistently high unfavorables have become part of the backroom buzz in Democratic circles, party campaign strategists say, though none will say it on the record. And other analysts say it is too early to measure what effect her negatives will have on her party next year.
"People are concerned about her unfavorables, but I think it is way too early to use that as an indicator of what is going to happen in November should she become the nominee," said Bud Jackson, a Democratic campaign strategist. "I think [the polling numbers] should give you pause, but I don't think it's alarm bells ringing off. There's time and opportunity for Hillary Clinton to improve those numbers."
During a debate yesterday in Iowa among the Democratic presidential candidates, Mrs. Clinton said Mr. Rove's criticisms of her shows that Republicans fear her candidacy.
"I find it interesting he's so obsessed with me," Mrs. Clinton said. "I think the reason is because we know how to win. ...... I have been fighting against these people for longer than anybody else up here. I've taken them on, and we've beaten them."
Mr. Rove, who is stepping down at the end of the month as White House deputy chief of staff, said the top Republicans presidential candidates are more in keeping with the attitudes, values and views of most voters.
"With the strong candidates we've got — [Arizona Sen. John] McCain, [former Tennessee Sen. Fred] Thompson, [former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt] Romney, [former New York Mayor Rudolph W.] Giuliani and others — we'll have an excellent chance to keep the White House," Mr. Rove said on "Fox News Sunday."
"At the same time ... take a look at the very sharp decline in popularity of the Democratic Congress, which was at very high levels seven months ago and has plummeted way below where the president has."
Mr. Rove brushed aside concerns about Republicans' own low polling numbers, saying that "there's plenty of time" to win over voters.
"There are several geological ages that are going to come and go before the 2008 election," he said.