- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 1, 2015

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton still has a relatively solid grip on the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, but survey results released Thursday show her lead is down from several months ago and that a majority of overall voters have concerns about her handling of the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, and the controversy over her private email use.

Mrs. Clinton was at 41 percent in the Suffolk University/USA TODAY poll, followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont at 23 percent and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. at 20 percent. Mr. Biden has not yet announced his 2016 plans.

In a Suffolk University/USA TODAY poll released in July, Mrs. Clinton had been at 59 percent, followed by Mr. Sanders at 14 percent and Mr. Biden at 8 percent.

In the results released Thursday, Mrs. Clinton had a negative 39 percent/51 percent favorable/unfavorable split among overall voters, compared to a positive 51 percent/35 percent split for Mr. Biden and a positive 37 percent/34 percent split for Mr. Sanders.

In a word association question with voters overall, 13 percent said “Liar/Dishonest” best describes Mrs. Clinton, followed by “Untrustworthy/Fake” and “Smart/Intelligent/Knowledgeable” at 8 percent apiece.

For Mr. Sanders, “Socialist” was the clear front-runner at 11 percent, followed by “Favorable/Like/Good” at 4 percent and “Liberal/Democrat,” “Unfavorable/Dislike,” “Intelligent/Knowledgeable,” and “Idiot/Evil/Outrageous/Rude” at 3 percent each.

For Mr. Biden, “Favorable/Like” led the way at 12 percent, followed by “Honest/Honorable/Integrity/Trustworthy” at 7 percent, and “Idiot/Joke/Ass” and “Fun/Funny/Character/Goofy” at 5 percent each.

“Biden is seen in a much more favorable light than his opponents. His reputation and broad appeal makes people comfortable with him as a strong Democratic candidate with minimal baggage who is not considered extreme by the average voter,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston.

The rest of the Democratic field — former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia and Harvard Professor Larry Lessig, barely registered in the poll, cumulatively totaling 7 votes combined.

Mr. O’Malley received zero votes.

Sixty percent of general election voters said they’re bothered by Mrs. Clinton’s decision to use a private email server as secretary of state rather than a standard government one, and then turn over copies of work-related emails and delete the ones she deemed personal. Seventy percent said it was something that will hurt her in the general election.

And 52 percent of voters overall said they’re bothered by how she handled and explained the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, that claimed the lives of four Americans, with 59 percent predicting the issue will hurt her in the general election.

She is scheduled to testify before the House Select Committee on Benghazi later this month.

Twenty-two percent of Democratic voters said her handling of Benghazi bothered them and 44 percent said it will hurt her in the general election. Thirty-three percent of Democratic voters said the e-mail issue bothers them and 60 percent said they think it will hurt her in the general election.

“Some Clinton voters acknowledge that her handling of her emails and the Benghazi situation bothers them and that the issues could hurt her in the general election if she is the nominee,” Mr. Paleologos said. “But for now, many are sticking by her, even though the race should shake up dramatically when the first official Democratic debate is held in less than two weeks.”

Mr. O’Malley has been leading a charge to try to increase the number of Democratic debates, but 54 percent of Democratic primary voters said the Democratic National Committee should not sanction more debates beyond the six already approved, compared to 34 percent who said the DNC should sanction more debates.

The survey of 1,000 likely voters was conducted from Sept. 24-28 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The subset of 430 Democratic primary voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.7 percentage points.

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