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News Analysis: Connecting with voters remains Clinton's challenge

by Matthew Rusling

WASHINGTON, June 30 (Xinhua) -- Hillary Clinton has an impressive resume - eight years as first lady, eight years as senator, four years as secretary of state and a name recognized worldwide. Her main challenge in the run-up to the 2016 White House race is simply connecting with ordinary Americans, analysts say.

While Clinton came from a middle class upbringing as a small businessman's daughter in Illinois, she has been in the national spotlight since the early 1990s. She and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have earned millions of dollars for speeches and books.

That has opened her up to questions over whether her wealth and status have insulated her from the problems of ordinary Americans, and analysts said her controversial response to a question on that issue earlier this month showed she is rusty in the public relations game.

"We had no money when we got there and we struggled to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages for houses, for (daughter) Chelsea's education, you know. It was not easy," she said in an interview with ABC News, regarding her time after two terms in the White House.

Her remarks prompted ABC News journalist Dianne Sawyer to ask whether most Americans would understand the fact that Clinton is paid "five times the country's median income" for making one speech.

Clinton has tried to clarify her remarks in recent weeks, but U.S. media continues to bring it up, and analysts said she must avoid making such gaffes in the lead-up to the 2016 elections.

"Hillary needs to work on her ability to relate to average Americans. She needs to quit talking about her own personal money and think about ordinary folks who struggle to make a living," Darrell West, a senior fellow at Brookings Institution, told Xinhua.

Fortunately for Clinton, that should not be a problem in the campaign because she did very well at winning working-class votes during the 2008 Democratic primaries, although she needs to be careful about her language so as not to provide an opportunity for opponents to paint her as aloof and out of touch, West added.

Others contend that Clinton's wealth could open her up to a challenge from the left wing of her own party, "particularly in this Occupy Wall Street populist era," Republican strategist Ford O'Connell told Xinhua.

"If she gets dinged up in the primary ... it could really damage her in the general election," he said, arguing that for Clinton to lose the general election, her Democratic base will have to sour toward her somewhat.

"She's got to find a way to change that narrative," O'Connell said of the perception among some that Clinton's wealth is a barrier in relating to average Americans.

While Democrats view Clinton as empathetic to ordinary Americans, independents are divided over that question, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Annenberg survey taken after Clinton made her controversial comments.

The poll asked respondents whether Clinton "can relate to and understand the problems of average Americans" in light of her "position and economic circumstances." Some 86 percent of Democrats responded that she can relate as well as other candidates. However, only 46 percent of independents echoed those sentiments, with 44 percent saying she relates "not as well" as others. Only 27 percent of Republicans said she can relate.

Still, her husband Bill will be an asset in her race to become the first female president, as the still popular former president is a master of connecting with ordinary people and can coach Hillary, experts said.

Plus, she will have the advantage of a ready-made campaign organization, unparalleled name recognition, and a public that looks fondly on the previous Clinton presidency, Dan Mahaffee, an analyst with the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, told Xinhua.

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