WASHINGTON (AP) — All summer long, Hillary Clinton delighted in snappy attack lines about Donald Trump.
Electing the billionaire, she warned, would be a “historic mistake.” The Republican nominee perpetuates “outlandish Trumpian ideas.” Clinton reveled in imagining her rival “composing nasty tweets” as she derided him as “temperamentally unfit and totally unqualified” to be president.
But as the campaign moves into the final stretch, Clinton finds herself chasing an even more elusive target: herself.
Just seven weeks before Election Day and Clinton’s poll numbers slipping, her campaign is trying — yet again — to explain one of the world’s most famous politicians to a skeptical public.
The effort marks an unusual moment of introspection for Clinton, who has long refused to engage in the kind of public self-examination that can help transform would-be heads of state into relatable figures.
The start of September brought a series of near-apologies from Clinton, a notable shift for a candidate who took months to express remorse for her decision to use a private email system while running the State Department.
Her vote for the Iraq war and decision to set up a private email server in her suburban New York home were both “a mistake,” she said at a national security forum hosted by NBC. A late-night comment at a fundraiser that half of Donald Trump’s supporters fit into a “basket of deplorables” prompted a quick statement of partial regret — for branding “half” of them that way.
And her campaign took “responsibility” for not being “fast enough” in disclosing she had pneumonia after a video showed Clinton staggering leaving a 9/11 ceremony.
She also lamented that some voters view her as aloof.
“I don’t view myself as cold or unemotional,” she said in her post to the popular website Humans of New York. “And neither do my friends. And neither does my family.” She went on: “But if that sometimes is the perception I create, then I can’t blame people for thinking that.”
The campaign hopes that such public shows of humility, alongside a series of speeches designed to lay out her vision for the country, will persuade voters to reconsider their feelings about Clinton.
In the campaign’s final stretch, her aides plan to show off Clinton in governing mode — meeting world leaders during the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York City, for example. They argue that people like Clinton more when she’s serving in office than when she’s campaigning. Invitations to some creative media appearances, such as a turn on the “Funny or Die” comedy site, have been accepted to play up the warm, self-effacing Clinton that friends say they see in private.
The strategy is designed to address Clinton’s biggest political liability: A majority of voters simply do not trust her.
Ratings of her honesty have remained stubbornly low in polling — even among Democrats. Just 35 percent of Americans, surveyed in an ABC News/Washington Post poll this month, see Clinton as honest and trustworthy, down from a high of 53 percent in June 2014. Trump ranked only slightly lower at 31 percent.
Strategists worry that Clinton’s character issues have contributed to a lack of understanding about why she’s running for president, a pressing concern given that absentee ballots are now available in a few states.
“They don’t know what her vision is,” said Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis. “She has not articulated a positive vision. She has a slogan. Offer a vision.”
Democrats say they’ll reap only declining returns by continuing to focus so much on Trump.
Clinton’s campaign and the outside groups helping her spent more than $161 million on television and radio advertising between mid-June and this past week, according to Kantar Media’s political ad tracker, with a huge portion of their spots aimed at hammering Trump. The Republican nominee and his backers only spent about $38 million in the same period.
Still, advisers and former aides acknowledge improving Clinton’s standing with Americans, forged over nearly three tumultuous decades in public life and shaped in part by relentless criticism from her opponents, isn’t an overnight process. “You’re faced with having to undo that,” said Lissa Muscatine, a longtime friend and former speechwriter for Clinton.
Not all fault lies with Republicans. Famously concerned with her privacy, Clinton has long recoiled from offering the personal insights the public expects from politicians.
“Even people you think you know extremely well, do you know their entire personality?” she asked during her 2000 Senate campaign. “Do they, at every point you’re with them, reveal totally who they are? Of course not.” She said: “We now expect people in the public arena to somehow do that. I don’t understand the need behind that.”
Already, her efforts have been set back by her decision to keep her pneumonia diagnosis secret from all but her closest aides.
“When it comes to public service, I’m better at the `service’ part than the `public’ part,” she said at a North Carolina event marking her return to the campaign trail.
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