Hillary Rodham Clinton’s poll numbers are sagging as more questions arise about her use of private email, but her Democratic rivals for the White House have yet to truly use the issue to attack the party’s presidential front-runner.
Other Democrats seeking the White House, such as former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, have kept Mrs. Clinton’s email scandal at arm’s length. Others have even defended the former secretary of state, saying she’s been the victim of unfair attacks from the media and Republicans in Congress.
Some political analysts say other Democratic presidential hopefuls are wise to largely avoid the scandal, as they would gain little by directly attacking Mrs. Clinton.
Rather than spend time dissecting the latest developments around Mrs. Clinton’s private email server, Democrats are trying as best they can to keep the focus on economic issues.
“I think it underscores why we need to have conversations and need to start having our debate within the Democratic Party about the ideas that will actually create jobs, get incomes to go up, make our country safer,” Mr. O’Malley told MSNBC on Thursday. “All this stuff about the email server and the top secret emails, all of this — these are not the ideas that excite the electorate. These are not the ideas that spark the imagination of the American people or allow them to see their own family’s future in the solutions and the ideas and the broader story that we have to offer as a party.”
Mrs. Clinton this week turned over her private email server to federal investigators after it was revealed she sent classified information with her private account. Mrs. Clinton previously had denied sending any classified information through private email.
Questions about the former first lady’s email habits seem to be dragging down her poll numbers. Her favorability numbers have dropped in recent weeks, and she’s now fallen behind Sen. Bernard Sanders, the Vermont independent running for president as a Democrat, in at least one recent New Hampshire poll.
Still, Mr. Sanders and other primary rivals have avoided hitting Mrs. Clinton over her email habits. In fact, Mr. Sanders has suggested Mrs. Clinton is being unfairly attacked.
“And by the way, let me be frank, and I’m running against her: Some of it is sexist. I don’t know that a man would be treated the same way that Hillary is,” he told CBS News on Sunday after being asked about Mrs. Clinton’s private email.
Democratic presidential candidate and former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia also has skirted the issue.
Specialists say the candidates are smart to stay away from the scandal.
“The media is covering it, giving it incredible play, and the Republicans now are playing it up as much as they can. So, for her Democratic opponents, they don’t need to do any more. Second, they run a real risk of antagonizing many Democrats … and being seen as piling on,” said Matthew Dallek, assistant professor of political management at George Washington University.
But one Democratic presidential contender has waded into the scandal, though he, too, didn’t mount an all-out attack on Mrs. Clinton.
Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee said last month Mrs. Clinton must clear up confusion about why she used a private email server and why she did not use separate phones for government and personal email.
“The rules were clear when she came in about using separate devices. Now she has to answer the questions,” he said at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.