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Democratic activists still not quite ready for Clinton

An audience guest tries to restrain an environmental activist who interrupted Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton during a town hall meeting in Dover, NH, Thursday, July 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

PHOENIX (AP) — Three months into Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign for president, there are fresh warning signs she may be falling short with some Democratic voters whose enthusiasm will be essential to her success in 2016.

While Clinton remains the front-runner for her party’s nomination, new polling by Associated Press-GfK shows a drop in her favorability rating among Democrats. Financial disclosure documents filed by her campaign show the bulk of her money coming from big donors, hinting at low enthusiasm with average supporters. And she’s facing pushback on her positions from some liberal activists on the campaign trail and at party gatherings.

Clinton was noticeably absent from the roster of speakers expected this week in Phoenix at the Netroots Nation convention, an annual gathering of about 3,000 liberal activists and organizers who frequently volunteer on presidential campaigns. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a rival for the Democratic nomination, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren planned to address the conference. Several attendees said the two liberal luminaries were pushing Clinton to the left but that they still had reservations about her candidacy.

“I think a lot of people will talk themselves into thinking what a great president Hillary Clinton will be,” said Jose Martinez Diaz, a 36-year-old Democratic digital organizer from Washington, D.C.

Sanders had captured the imagination of many progressives, but few expect him to mount a serious challenge to Clinton, he said, adding, “I think there will be a lot of people who will be disappointed.”

Republicans have been raising tens of millions of dollars to fuel their own nomination fight, yet they have already devoted significant time and resources to damaging Clinton’s image.

An AP-GfK poll released this week found her standing falling among Democrats, with about 70 percent of Democrats giving Clinton positive marks, an 11-point drop from an April survey. Nearly a quarter of Democrats now say they see Clinton in an unfavorable light.

Campaigning in New Hampshire on Thursday, Clinton brushed off the poll findings.

“I don’t like seeing that, obviously,” she said of the poll. “But I think people know that I will fight for them.”

She added, “I’m very pleased with the support I have.”

Part of Clinton’s decline may be due to questions about her character, an issue Republicans have pushed as a central theme of their campaign. Nearly 6 in 10 voters said they did not view Clinton as compassionate, saying the word described her “slightly” or “not well at all.” Just 3 in 10 said the word “honest” described her either very or somewhat well.

The percentage of respondents calling Clinton at least somewhat inspiring also slipped from 44 percent to 37 percent.

Even the number of voters saying Clinton is at least somewhat decisive, previously a strong point for the former secretary of state and New York senator, fell from 56 percent in April to 47 percent in the new poll.

“I think a lot of people are tired of Hillary Clinton and want something new,” said Kristen Millnick of Washington, D.C., who was among hundreds of activists started arriving at Netroots Nation on Thursday.

Many attendees gave Clinton credit for putting forward populist ideas to expand and protect voting rights, overhaul the immigration system and prosecute rogue Wall Street traders. But they are still looking for policy details that would signal she would fully embrace the party’s base on a number of issues.

“People want to believe she will go big,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “The burden of proof is on her to show that she will go big and bold in the populist direction.”

A stop Thursday in Dover, New Hampshire, underscored the balancing act Clinton faces in the party. After she resisted pleas from a voter to immediately ban fossil fuels, protestors organized by a liberal environmental group unfurled a banner and erupted in shouts. Clinton said she respected their “passion and urgency” but that she could not “responsibly” promise to ban the use of fossil fuels because of their economic impact.

“That may not be a satisfactory answer to you,” she said. “I don’t want to say I would do something that I would know would be very difficult to do until we get everything moving in the right direction.” She also stopped short of supporting a $15 minimum wage, telling reporters later that she was working with Democrats in Congress “who are trying to determine how high it can be raised.”

Clinton has also come up lukewarm on another measure of Democratic enthusiasm: money. Of the $47.5 million that Clinton raised, less than one-fifth has come from contributions of $200 or less. Sanders, meanwhile, pulled in more than three-quarters of his $15.2 million haul from small-dollar donors.

The fundraising reports filed with the Federal Election Commission this week offered a preview of the flood of Republican money Clinton will face during the campaign. GOP candidates and their linked outside groups have raised at least $320 million so far, according to an AP tally of FEC documents and the financial totals provided groups that have yet to report. The five Democratic candidates and their groups have reported raising roughly $80 million, the bulk of which will benefit Clinton.

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,004 adults was conducted online Thursday to Monday, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access with no cost to them.

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Lerer reported from Washington. Associated Press news survey specialist Emily Swanson and Associated Press writers Julie Bykowicz in Washington and Jill Colvin in Dover, Delaware, contributed to this report.

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Online:

AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

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