The Washington Post

Americans overwhelmingly side with Hillary Clinton over Karl Rove in brain flap

Republican strategist Karl Rove may need a different strategy to slow Hillary Clinton's 2016 candidacy.

Karl Rove (Tony Gutierrez / The Associated Press)

Two-thirds of Americans in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll disapprove of the Republican strategist raising questions about Clinton's age and health in advance of her potential presidential run. The lopsided negative reaction to Rove's commentary -- just 26 percent approve of his topic of criticism -- includes majorities of every age group as well as Democrats and independents. Republicans split evenly on the issue, with 45 percent approving and 46 percent disapproving of Rove broaching the issue.

Rove's comments earlier this month, which focused on medical issues surrounding a fall Clinton suffered in December 2012, ignited controversy and charges of sexism. As the New York Post quoted Rove, “thirty days in the hospital? And when she reappears, she’s wearing glasses that are only for people who have traumatic brain injury? We need to know what’s up with that.” Rove insisted that the Post's headline, which suggested he had said  Clinton might have suffered brain damage, was a mischaracterization of his position but maintained that the former Secretary of State appeared to have suffered "a serious health episode." On Monday Rove again drew criticism for arguing Clinton would the represent a third term of Barack Obama, and that in politics "you don't want to be something old and stale."

Rove's line of criticism faces skepticism, according to the new poll. Big majorities of nearly all demographic and political groups disapprove of Rove's focus, including men and senior citizens, two groups that the GOP needs in a general election. Only among the subset of conservative Republicans do a majority (52 percent) approve of what Rove said. Even among those who would oppose Hillary Clinton as a candidate in 2016, nearly half disapprove Rove's commentary.

Health questions -- particularly for older candidates -- have been a regular part of the discussion in presidential campaigns. In 2008,  more than four in 10 registered voters in a Post-ABC poll (42 percent) said they were at least "somewhat" uncomfortable with John McCain taking office at the age of 72. At the time, two-thirds of Democrats said they were uncomfortable about McCain entering office at age 72, just 3 years older than Clinton would be at the start of her first term.

Partisans, of course, are much more open to health questions concerning candidates from the opposite party. But the public's broad rebuke of Rove for floating questions about Clinton's health indicates the public may see the issue as more off limits for Clinton, making criticism on these subjects more risky than for male presidential candidates in the past. The numbers may also indicate that Rove is a decidedly flawed messenger to carry such questions in the minds of a majority of the public.

The Post-ABC poll was conducted May 21 to 25 among a random national sample of 1,017 adults, including users of conventional and cellular phones. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

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