PHILADELPHIA — Democrats are banking on a trust bounce for presidential nominee Hillary Clinton after last week’s convention in Philadelphia, where a top priority was repairing a reputation for dishonesty and deception that party officials say she doesn’t deserve.
Deserved or not, the Clinton campaign and party officials are keenly aware that the trust deficit is one of her biggest vulnerabilities against Republican nominee Donald Trump, and they can’t easily redefine someone who has been a national public figure for 25 years.
That was why most of the speakers at the convention didn’t attempt to give Mrs. Clinton a warm-and-fuzzy makeover. Voters wouldn’t buy it. Instead, they strove to convince Americans that they can depend on the former first lady, senator and secretary of state to hang tough and never stop fighting for them.
“I kept hearing the same words over and over again in all the speeches: ‘tough,’ ‘determined,’ ‘won’t take no for an answer.’ That’s what I think they were going for. She may not be the most personable person, but she gets things done and she won’t back down,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon.
The character witnesses on stage at the Wells Fargo Center came from every angle.
President Obama described his former secretary of state as a White House war-room veteran. “Even in the midst of crisis, she listens to people, and she keeps her cool, and she treats everybody with respect,” said Mr. Obama.
Laura Manning, who suffered burns to more than 80 percent of her body from the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, recalled that Mrs. Clinton visited her in the hospital and kept in touch during years of recovery.
“When I needed her, she was there. When our first responders needed her, she was there. Now our country needs her,” said Mrs. Manning.
Mr. Bannon predicted that stressing Mrs. Clinton’s toughness and dependability would help her make gains among the more than half of U.S. voters who consistently tell pollsters that she isn’t trustworthy.
A CNN/ORC poll conducted in the days before the Democratic National Convention recorded the worst trust rating yet for Mrs. Clinton, with 68 percent of likely voters saying she is not honest or trustworthy.
Mr. Trump beat Mrs. Clinton 44 percent to 39 percent in the poll’s four-way matchup that included Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson at 9 percent and Green Party candidate Jill Stein at 3 percent.
The billionaire businessman got his own trust bounce in the poll taken after the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. The share of voters who called him honest and trustworthy was 43 percent, up from 38 percent before the convention.
Other polls have shown Mrs. Clinton with single-digit leads. Both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump carry high unfavorable ratings, and Mr. Trump’s unfavorable numbers are usually worse, But Mrs. Clinton biggest liability remains her perceived dishonesty.
Mrs. Clinton’s supporters maintain that her reputation as a liar is a result of incessant attacks from Republicans dating back to her days as first lady. They insist, as she does, that the laundry list of scandals is part of a lifelong smear campaign, from firings in the White House travel office when she was first lady to the secret email setup when she was secretary of state.
Indeed, Republicans continue to remind voters of the litany of scandals that have dogged the Clintons: Troopergate, Whitewater, the Monica Lewinsky affair, foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation while she was secretary of state and the handling of the terrorist attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya.
“They’ve attacked her for years,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
As evidence, he pointed to remarks by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, who said the special committee investigation of the Benghazi attack contributed to Mrs. Clinton’s low poll numbers.
Mr. Leahy said standout performances at the convention by Mr. Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden vouching for Mrs. Clinton’s dependable leadership would “help us out a lot.”
Others said persistent sexist attitudes of American voters were the cause of the distrust.
“Even though it’s 2016, I think there are still Americans who have problems with women in power,” said Democratic convention delegate Ro Rossero, a middle school teacher from Cleveland.
Texas delegate Emud Salem agreed.
“If she were a man, I think she wouldn’t have the same questions about trustworthiness,” he said. “This is what happens to women who lead. But it is something she can overcome.”