The POLITICO Caucus
Insiders: Hillary’s not out of the woods yet on emails
‘This is not a win,’ said an Iowa Democrat. ‘Comey eviscerated all the excuses for Hillary and her team’s behaviors.’
By Steven Shepard
07/08/16 05:50 AM EDT
The Justice Department has given Hillary Clinton a clean legal bill of health in the long-running saga over her private email server while she was secretary of state, but few Democrats think the news will help her campaign.
That’s according to the POLITICO Caucus — a panel of activists, strategists and operatives in 10 key battleground states. Just under a quarter (24 percent) of Democrats said FBI Director James Comey’s statements this week would help Clinton’s campaign because she avoided criminal charges.
Slightly more Democratic insiders (26 percent) said Comey’s stern rebuke — in which he called Clinton “extremely careless” for using a non-secure platform for her email, which included some classified material — would hurt Clinton’s campaign. Half of Democratic insiders said it would have no impact.
Republicans were far more likely to see Comey’s statement as bad news for the Clinton campaign. About two-thirds (66 percent) said it would hurt Clinton’s campaign, compared to 16 percent who thought it would help, and 18 percent who said it would have no impact.
A number of Democrats said the results of the investigation — disclosed by the FBI in a rare public statement Tuesday — reinforces voters’ feelings that she isn’t honest and trustworthy. Just 30 percent of registered voters in a Fox News poll last week said the words “honest and trustworthy” describe Clinton, compared to the nearly two-thirds who said they didn’t describe her.
“This is not a win. Comey eviscerated all the excuses for Hillary and her team’s behaviors. It plays into the narrative that she can’t be trusted,” said an Iowa Democrat, who, like all respondents, completed the survey anonymously. “If she was running against anyone other than Trump, this would have been blown up much bigger and hit much harder.”
The survey was conducted after Comey presented the findings of his investigation and the bureau’s recommendation that prosecutors not pursue charges against Clinton. Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s announcement that the Justice Department wouldn’t charge Clinton, along with Comey’s testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, came while the survey was in the field.
“Every adjective [Comey] used confirms the worst suspicions of those who were a wee bit squeamish about voting for her,” added a New Hampshire Democrat. “I cant think of a way it could have been worse, short of an actual recommendation to indict. In fact, because the case appeared to be laid out for prosecution of some nature, the fact that this wasn’t recommended only seems to reinforce Trump’s charge of a ‘rigged system.’”
Some Democrats said Comey’s statement will hurt Clinton — but also expressed relief that Trump had botched his initial response.
“This story will continue to play into the Hillary trust issue,” said a Colorado Democrat. “The only upside is that just about anything Trump says right now is exponentially worse. His latest anti-Semitic dustup, alongside his praise of Saddam Hussein, are just the latest in a litany of poor choices.”
“She is lucky not to be indicted, but Comey’s comments were brutal,” added another Colorado Democrat. “Luckily, Trump is so undisciplined that he missed his best chances to hammer her.”
Other Democrats said voters’ perceptions of the Clinton email case were mostly formed before Comey’s statements, and the mixed verdict — with investigators judging her behavior careless but not criminal — was unlikely to change many minds.
“The whole thing is baked in at this point. The damage is done. Voters already assumed the worst,” said a Florida Democrat. “The only thing that could have changed anything was if she was charged with crimes. Since she wasn’t, it will have no impact.”
“People will keep their preconceived notions,” added an Iowa Democrat. “Moreover, Trump hasn’t seemed to be able to capitalize on Comey’s comments — or doesn’t want to.”
And the remaining Democrats said the topline news — that Clinton won’t be charged — will outweigh whatever critical comments Comey made in the run-up to the announcement.
“Brooklyn may not know it,” said a Florida Democrat, “but the contrasting images of Comey’s declaration that no charges would be filed, alongside President Obama’s ringing endorsement of Hillary, will end up being viewed as a major, positive turning point for the campaign.”
For Republican insiders, Comey’s statement represented a blueprint for attacking Clinton in paid media ads for the rest of the campaign, even without an indictment.
“Quoting directly from the FBI will be killer in radio, TV and direct-mail ads,” said one Nevada Republican.
“Comey spent 10-15 minutes excoriating her to the nation,” added a Wisconsin Republican. “We thought she was going to be charged and when she wasn’t, we knew the fix was in.”
But others said the non-indictment might be all voters remember by the time November comes around.
“Perception is reality in politics, and the average voter equates indictment with criminal activity,” said a North Carolina Republican. “Republicans can weaponize ‘indictment’ more so than ‘rebuke.’ Hillary dodged a bullet. Ask Scooter Libby if it is better to be sternly rebuked rather than indicted.”
And still other Republicans lamented the Trump campaign’s inability to capitalize on the Comey report.
“It will have no impact because my party is apparently committed to nominating Donald Trump and flying the plane directly into the mountain,” said a Virginia Republican.
“In any other campaign, the FBI director’s report would have disqualified Hillary Clinton for the awesome responsibility of the presidency,” added a New Hampshire Republican. “But Donald Trump is so flawed and complete unable to prosecute the former secretary of state’s scandals that Hillary will be beat him anyway. Sad!”
Republicans to Trump: Don’t pick a general for vice president.
Donald Trump should pick a running mate with political experience — and forget the notion of choosing a general or a fellow industrialist to join his ticket.
The vast majority of Republican insiders, 83 percent, said someone with experience in government, whether as an executive or a legislator, would be most helpful to Trump’s campaign.
“He needs someone with a calming influence who can help him on Capitol Hill and with key constituent groups that want to vote for Trump but remain reluctant,” said an Ohio Republican — who, like all respondents, completed the survey anonymously.
“He needs someone to help him with Congress,” an Iowa Republican said. “He’ll have to learn that he can’t just stomp his feet and get his way — like Obama had to learn.”
A Nevada Republican added that a Trump running mate “with political experience will be very helpful; however, it can’t be a well-known establishment operative: It needs to be someone with a track record of producing conservative results.”
A few GOP insiders offered former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is apparently in the running, as someone who would offer Trump that experience.
“Newt would be a great addition to the team,” offered an Iowa Republican, who said Gingrich would “bring home conservatives” and “be the smartest person in the race.”
Trump “could use a heavy dose of ideas and governing vision,” added a Colorado Republican. “At this point, I honestly like the idea of Newt a lot. He would at least try to redirect Trump’s energy toward something big and real.”
But Gingrich and other politicians — like Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — aren’t the only candidates reportedly on Trump’s shortlist. The presumptive GOP nominee has also said he is considering other options, like a retired general or a business executive.
On the whole, Republican insiders aren’t fond of those ideas, though military experience tested much higher: Just 15 percent of insiders said a retired general would be most helpful to Trump’s efforts to defeat Hillary Clinton, while only 1 percent want a fellow business figure.
“Trump has a real opening on national security because of Clinton’s email scandal and association with the Obama foreign policy,” said a New Hampshire Republican. “He now needs to show that there is someone who will be in the room when tough national security decisions need to be made.”
But a number of Republicans said Trump, who is trailing Clinton in the polls nationally and in most battleground states, is doomed regardless.
“No one will be helpful,” said a Virginia Republican, “because three minutes after he introduces the nominee he’s going to make yet another wildly offensive statement that will consume the media cycle. Rinse and repeat.”
“How about someone not afraid to be embarrassed by running with Trump?” suggested an Ohio Republican.
A Wisconsin Republican said the résumé of Trump’s running mate doesn’t matter. “This is all about Trump, all the time,” the Republican said. “Maybe he’ll pick Don King or Tom Brady.”
“A retired general will be more likely to engender the trust of the military personnel needed to mount a successful coup to overthrow President Trump,” joked a North Carolina Republican. “It’s the same model of efficiency that Saddam Hussein used so effectively in Iraq. They didn’t used to call Iraq ‘the Harvard of Military Coups’ for nothing, y’know! But, I digress.”
These are the members of The POLITICO Caucus, not all of whom participated in this survey:
Colorado: Ryan Call, Laura Carno, Matt Chandler, Will Coyne, Adam Eichberg, Mark Ferrandino, Cole Finegan, Michael Fortney, Andrew Freedman, Ted Harvey, Craig Hughes, Owen Loftus, Pete Maysmith, Frank McNulty, Karen Middleton, Christopher Murray, BJ Nikkel, Josh Penry, Rick Ridder, Alan Salazar, Janice Sinden, Pat Steadman, Pat Waak, Steve Welchert, Taylor West, Roxane White, Rob Witwer
Florida: Fernand Amandi, Scott Arceneaux, JP Austin, Tim Baker, Dennis K. Baxley, Slater Bayliss, Dave Beattie, Wayne Bertsch, Ron Book, Pamela Burch Fort, Jose Calderon, Kevin Cate, Kelly Cohen, Gus Corbella, Brian Crowley, Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder, Justin Day, Judith Diaz, Nelson Diaz, John Dowless, Ryan Duffy, Jessica Ehrlich, Joe Falk, Alia Faraj-Johnson, Mark Ferrulo, Damien Filer, Marty Fiorentino, Rich Heffley, Nick Iarossi, David Johnson, Eric Johnson, Marian Johnson, Eric Jotkoff, Chris Korge, Jackie Lee, Susan MacManus, Beth Matuga, Fred Menachem, Jon Mills, Joe Mobley, Ben Pollara, Andrea Reilly, Steve Schale, April Schiff, Max Steele, Roger Stone, Richard Swann, Kevin Sweeny, Christian Ulvert, Steve Vancore, Ashley Walker, Andrew Weinstein, Andrew Wiggins, Ryan Wiggins, Rick Wilson
Iowa: Tim Albrecht, Brad Anderson, Rob Barron, Jeff Boeyink, Bonnie Campbell, Dave Caris, Sam Clovis, Jerry Crawford, Sara Craig, John Davis, Steve Deace, John Deeth, Derek Eadon, Ed Failor Jr., Karen Fesler, David Fischer, Ben Foecke, Doug Gross, Steve Grubbs, Tim Hagle, Bob Haus, Joe Henry, Drew Ivers, Jill June, Lori Jungling, Jeff Kaufmann, Brian Kennedy, Jake Ketzner, David Kochel, Chris Larimer, Chuck Larson, Jill Latham, Jeff Link, Dave Loebsack, Mark Lucas, Liz Mathis, Jan Michelson, Chad Olsen, David Oman, Matt Paul, Marlys Popma, Troy Price, Christopher Rants, Kim Reem, Craig Robinson, Sam Roecker, David Roederer, Nick Ryan, Tamara Scott, Joni Scotter, Karen Slifka, John Smith, AJ Spiker, Norm Sterzenbach, John Stineman, Matt Strawn, Charlie Szold, Phil Valenziano, Jessica Vanden Berg, Nate Willems, Eric Woolson, Grant Young
Nevada: Mac Abrams, Greg Bailor, Barbara Buckley, Yvanna Cancela, Bob Cavazos, Linda Cavazos, Jim DeGraffenreid, Andrew Diss, Peter Ernaut, Ryan Erwin, Chip Evans, Jay Gerstema, Oscar Goodman, Ryan Hamilton, Dan Hart, Pat Hickey, Zach Hudson, Jeremy Hughes, Megan Jones, Lindsey Jydstrup, Adam Khan, Peter Koltak, Roberta Lange, Sam Liberman, Laura Martin, Michael McDonald, Chuck Muth, Erven Nelson, Kristen Orthman, Neal Patel, Nick Phillips, Jon Ralston, Andres Ramires, Emmy Ruiz, Scott Scheid, Mike Slanker, James Smack, Paul Smith, Jack St. Martin, Mari St. Martin, Daniel Stewart, Brendan Summers, Riley Sutton, Robert Uithoven, Michelle White, Ed Williams, Heidi Wixom
New Hampshire: Charlie Arlinghaus, Arnie Arnesen, Patrick Arnold, Rich Ashooh, Dean Barker, Juliana Bergeron, D.J. Bettencourt, Michael Biundo, Ray Buckley, Peter Burling, Jamie Burnett, Debby Butler, Dave Carney, Jackie Cilley, Catherine Corkery, Corriveau, Fergus Cullen, Lou D’Allesandro, James Demers, Mike Dennehy, Sean Downey, Steve Duprey, JoAnn Fenton, Jennifer Frizzell, Martha Fuller Clark, Amanda Grady Sexton, Jack Heath, Gary Hirshberg, Jennifer Horn, Peter Kavanaugh, Joe Keefe, Rich Killion, Harrell Kirstein, Sylvia Larsen, Joel Maiola, Kate Malloy Corriveau, Maureen Manning, Steve Marchand, Tory Mazzola, Jim Merrill, Jayne Millerick, Claira Monier, Greg Moore, Matt Mowers, Terie Norelli, Chris Pappas, Liz Purdy, Tom Rath, Colin Reed, Jim Rubens, Andy Sanborn, Dante Scala, William Shaheen, Stefany Shaheen, Carol Shea-Porter, Terry Shumaker, Andy Smith, Craig Stevens, Kathy Sullivan, Chris Sununu, James Sununu, Jay Surdukowski, Donna Sytek, Kari Thurman, Colin Van Ostern, Deb Vanderbeek, Mike Vlacich, Ryan Williams
North Carolina: Don Davis, Francis X. De Luca, Anita Earls, Jonathan Felts, Tami L. Fitzgerald, Dylan Frick, Taylor Griffin, Robin Hayes, Morgan Jackson, Patsy Keever, Theresa Kostrzewa, Michael Luethy, Ray Martin, Thomas Mills, Melissa L. Reed, Chris Sgro, Paul Shumaker, Dee Stewart, Brad Thompson, Bruce Thompson, Charlie Wallin, Doug Wilson
Ohio: Jerry Austin, Greg Beswick, Matt Borges, Erica Bruton, Tim Burke, Janet Carson, Jai Chabria, Martha Clark, Bob Clegg, Damareo Cooper, Jo Ann Davidson, Michael Dawson, Bill DeMora, Cindy Demse, Kathy Dicristofaro, Katie Eagan, Michael Gonidakis, Wes Goodman, Joe Hallett, Ian James, Melissa Klide Hedden, David Leland, Nick Martin, Rhine McLin, David Pepper, Molly Shack, Mark R. Weaver
Pennsylvania: Chris Borick, Larry Ceisler, Valentino DiGiorgio, Jason Ercole, Dan Fee, Charlie Gerow, Marcel Groen, Leslie Gromis Baker, Mark Harris, Nan McLaughlin, Aubrey Montgomery, Christopher Nicholas, Nachama Soloveichik, David Sosar, Todd Stephens, Doc Sweitzer, David Thornburgh, Ray Zaborney
Virginia: Ray Allen, Sandra Brandt, Marc K. Broklawski, Patsy Brown, Janet Carver, John Cosgrove, Brian Coy, Doris Crouse-Mays, Tom Davis, Julie Dime, Abbi Easter, Mike Farris, John Findlay, Joe Fitzgerald, Sean Harrison, Margo Horner, Robert Hurt, Gaylene Kanoyton, Chris LaCivita, Sue Langley, Frank Leone, Robert G. Marshall, Tucker Martin, Ed Matricardi, Susan J. Rowland, Peter Snyder, Susan Swecker, Jo Thoburn
Wisconsin: Meg Andrietsch, Mary Arnold, Kevin Barthel, Mike Basford, Rebecca Bonesteel, Barry Burden, Terri Burl, Jim Camery, Patrick Guarasci, Robert Hansen, Gary Hawley, Marian Krumberger, Emily Nehring, Jason Rae, Brandon Scholz, John Zapfel
Kristen Hayford contributed to this report.