(CNSNews.com) - Despite a field of nine candidates from which to choose, nearly a quarter of likely Democratic presidential primary voters in New Hampshire say they are undecided about the 2004 race, fueling more speculation about the possible entry of a tenth candidate - New York Senator and former First Lady Hillary Clinton.
But while political watchers like conservative Robert Novak think it's still possible for a Clinton candidacy, recent polls show she is having major problems pleasing her own constituents in New York State.
Polls conducted by Zogby International and Marist College of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., show Clinton with high negative job ratings. In the Marist poll, 47 percent considered Clinton's job performance either excellent or good. Forty-nine percent rated it either fair or poor. The Zogby poll measured the same overall favorable rating, 47 percent, but revealed that 51 percent considered Clinton to have done either a fair or poor job as senator.
"Generally in New York, she remains fairly polarizing," Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Poll told CNSNews.com. "Her approval ratings remained pretty constant over the last year or so. The group that likes her is pretty close to the group that dislikes her in size."
John Zogby, president and CEO of Zogby International, said while the slow economy is causing "no particular political leader to do well" in recent polls, he agreed that Clinton's polarizing effect may uniquely put her at a disadvantage, particularly in upstate New York.
"First, it must be said that upstate is in the midst of a severe economic slowdown. It's gone from bad to worse and then even worse than worse," Zogby told CNSNews.com. "Number two, she always starts with at least 33 percent that hate her guts."
On Sunday, Clinton tried to address her state's suffering economy and rising numbers of jobless persons by calling for a six-month extension of federal unemployment benefits. She also took the opportunity to slam the policies of President George W. Bush.
"We're in a doubly dangerous time because not only are jobs drying up and not being created, but the safety net programs that people should be able to fall back on are also being shredded," Clinton said at a press conference from her Manhattan office.
Still 'remarkably' polarizing
Jeff Stonecash, political science professor with the Maxwell School at New York's Syracuse University, told CNSNews.com he had "never seen a candidate who, before ever running for office, elicited such remarkably polarized reactions.
"I've always gotten the feeling that she is a barometer far more than a lot of others for people's reactions to national issues," Stonecash said. "In other words, she picks up very strongly the conservative dislike of things and the liberals' like of various policies. She sort of draws those strong reactions."
Given that fact, Zogby said he believes Clinton has performed well during her first year and a half as a senator.
"Right now, [the polls are] a reflection of the condition of things in upstate New York more than anything in particular about her," Zogby said, adding that Clinton's fellow New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer and Republican Governor George Pataki were also "suffering" in the polls with only 51 percent and 54 percent favorability, respectively.
Stonecash said he was not surprised that Clinton's negative ratings were high.
"While a lot of members of Congress create these ratings that are somehow immune to the ebb and flow of the economy and politics, I get the feeling they register on her more," Stonecash said.
Miringoff said Clinton "needs to establish credibility and trust" while demonstrating that she is "a hard-working senator" before deciding to run for president.
"The minute she points in the direction of Des Moines, Iowa, or Manchester, N.H. (sites for early presidential contests), she's going to run into credibility problems on top of everything else," Miringoff said. "She made the pledge to fill out her six-year term, and anything short of that would really create a lot of friction with voters in New York."
"Upstate has the sense that it's the forgotten orphan," Zogby said, explaining why Clinton's favorable ratings are lower there than in New York City.
"One of the reasons Schumer and Clinton were able to win in their respective elections was because they paid so much attention to upstate," Zogby said. "This new recession that has begun over the last couple of years has not been kind to upstate New York."
Stonecash recalled Clinton's campaign theme to "help upstate."
"She just happened to make that campaign theme at a time when the economy has gone pretty sour all across the country, and she'll probably live or die with that promise of a focus on upstate," Stonecash said, adding that if the economy comes around in four years, "she'll do fine," but if it doesn't, "she'll be in real trouble upstate...someone will be able to pummel her, just beat the hell out of her."
Stonecash also noted that Clinton was in the minority in the Senate, "so she can't deliver the pork as well as she might have in the past."
As for Clinton's larger ambitions, Chicago Sun Times columnist Robert Novak wrote over the weekend that while "it's still a long shot," a Hillary Clinton presidential candidacy "really could happen."
Without Clinton, the nine announced candidates for the 2004 Democratic nomination squared off in a debate in South Carolina Saturday without any clear-cut winner. Meanwhile, the latest poll in New Hampshire shows Sen. John Kerry from neighboring Massachusetts leading with 28 percent support, but 23 percent of those surveyed by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research said they were undecided about whom to support.
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