- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Hillary Clinton said this week that she understands why voters are being drawn to Donald Trump — but she’ll have a much tougher time turning that sympathy into votes, analysts said.

Eight years ago, those frustrated blue-collar voters were the base of her Democratic primary campaign, but now she’s struggling to reconnect with many of them who have been swayed by the populist messages of Sen. Bernard Sanders on the left, and Mr. Trump on the right.

“I am sympathetic to a lot of the people attracted by Trump’s message, who are feeling really left out and left behind,” she said Tuesday night in California. “They have lost faith in their government, in the economy, certainly in politics, and most other institutions. And they don’t know how they are going to create … a better future for themselves. So, I am not only sympathetic, I am looking for solutions.”

Her search for solutions, however, will be complicated by the demands of her political home, the Democratic Party, which under President Obama has moved beyond those voters, building a powerful electoral coalition that doesn’t need — and often seems to work against — the interests of those blue-collar whites.

Mrs. Clinton must also battle against her own reputation as the embodiment of the political establishment, a reputation that clearly turns off the working-class voters now flocking to Mr. Trump.

“I do think she’s sympathetic to their concerns. I think she is politically aware that they’re an important constituency. I just think the hard part for her is that within the new Democratic coalition, these people just don’t have a high priority,” said Lara Brown, a political science professor at George Washington University.

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“The Democratic Party did walk away from the white working class in the heartland of America, at least from a rhetorical standpoint,” she said.

Mrs. Clinton has yet to articulate exactly what concerns and frustrations she sympathizes with and how she’d address them. Her campaign on Wednesday would not clarify specifically what Mrs. Clinton meant.

In her remarks Tuesday night, Mrs. Clinton tried to draw a bright line between her own pitch to working-class voters and that of Mr. Trump. She said she’s sympathetic to their economic plight but urged them to reject the notion that America can once again return to the economy of old, and she also cautioned against embracing a Trump message she says is based on misogyny, racism and xenophobia.

“I understand why people are frustrated and even fearful,” Mrs. Clinton said. “But don’t look for easy answers and misleading promises that cannot deliver what you’re hoping for. The whole slogan, ‘Make America Great Again,’ is code for go back to the time when a lot of people were not included. Including women, including African-Americans and Latinos, and a lot of other people.”

Mrs. Clinton has in recent weeks rolled out policy platforms on issues such as technology and innovation spending that she says will provide jobs for the middle class in rural areas. She’s also pledged to spend billions on worker retraining programs for, among other groups, coal miners put out of work by the industry’s decline and the climate change policies of the Obama administration.

But she’s still failed to truly strike a chord with those voters; she trailed Mr. Sanders among white voters throughout the primary, a stark reversal from 2008. That failure has led to a situation in which Mr. Sanders actually performs better against Mr. Trump in hypothetical November match-ups, presumably because significant numbers of white voters favor both the senator and Mr. Trump over Mrs. Clinton.

That fact clearly is not lost on Mr. Trump. The billionaire businessman has made an overt pitch to Sanders supporters in recent months, specifically highlighting how closely aligned he and the senator are on issues such as trade.

Mrs. Clinton, on the other hand, has strongly backed trade deals such as NAFTA that Mr. Trump says have crushed the middle class.

Unlike the hard-core liberal Democrats who backed Mr. Sanders in the primary but who analysts say are almost sure to vote for Mrs. Clinton in November, many white, working-class voters are firmly in the Trump column unless the Clinton camp can dramatically change the political equation.

“She needs to understand the plight of workers who feel left behind in the current economy. They are angry and frustrated, and feel that established political leaders don’t care about them,” said Darrell West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution. “They are looking for someone who feels their pain and has programs that will improve their lot. Unless she can address their concerns, they will vote for Trump.”

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