Now that the shouting about the midterm elections is just about over, the speculation of who the next Democratic Presidential candidate is now starting to hit the pundit airwaves.

Despite what the Dems say, Hillary Clinton (now labeled HRC because I just hate typing that name) is a divisive force. That’s right, divisive – you either love HRC or you hate her, and there just doesn’t seem to be a middle ground from what I’ve heard. As an example, here’s something that I’ve been saving for some time:

Hatin’ on Hillary: N.H. Dems lambaste Clinton
By Brett Arends
Boston Herald Business Columnist
Monday, August 7, 2006 – Updated: 09:36 AM EST

MANCHESTER, N.H. – Dick Bennett has been polling New Hampshire voters for 30 years. And he’s never seen anything like it.

“Lying b**** . . . shrew . . . Machiavellian . . . evil, power-mad witch . . . the ultimate self-serving politician.”

No prizes for guessing which presidential front-runner drew these remarks in focus groups.

But these weren’t Republicans talking about Hillary Clinton. They weren’t even independents.

These were ordinary, grass-roots Democrats. People who identified themselves as “likely” voters in the pivotal state’s Democratic primary. And, behind closed doors, this is what nearly half of them are saying.

“I was amazed,” says Bennett. “I thought there might be some negatives, but I didn’t know it would be as strong as this. It’s stunning, the similarities between the Republicans and the Democrats, the comments they have about her.”

Bennett runs American Research Group Inc., a highly regarded, independent polling company based in Manchester, N.H. He’s been conducting voter surveys there since 1976. The polls are financed by subscribers and corporate sponsors.

He has so far recruited 410 likely voters in the 2008 Democratic primary, and sat down with them privately in small groups to find out what they really think about the candidates and the issues.

His conclusion? “Forty-five percent of the Democrats are just as negative about her as Republicans are. More Republicans dislike her, but the Democrats dislike her in the same way.”

Hillary’s growing brain trust in the party’s upper reaches already knows she has high “negatives” among ordinary Democrats. They think she can win those voters over with the right strategy and message.

But they should get out of D.C., New York and L.A. more often, and visit grassroots members.

Because we’re not talking about “soft” negatives like, say, “out of touch” or “arrogant.”

We’re talking: “Criminal . . . megalomaniac . . . fraud . . . dangerous . . . devil incarnate . . . satanic . . . power freak.”

Satanic.

And: “Political wh***.”

(Note: I don’t usually like reporting such personal remarks, but in this case you can hardly understand the situation without them. I have no strong personal feelings about the senator.)

There are caveats. Any survey can be inaccurate or misleading. And 55 percent of ARG’s sample was either neutral or positive about Sen. Clinton. Thirty-two percent currently say they plan to vote for her in the primary.

But Bennett says he’s never before seen so many N.H. voters show so much hatred toward a member of their own party. He’s never even seen anything close.

He believes top national Democrats are missing this grassroots intensity. Instead, he suspects, they are blinded by poll numbers, which give Hillary a big early lead based on her name recognition.

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, agrees.

“There is far more anti-Hillary sentiment in the Democratic Party than the pollsters understand,” he says. In the race for the nomination, “she is ripe for plucking,” he says.

Sen. Clinton’s team could not be reached for comment.

New Hampshire is small, but it’s a bellwether state with clout.

Its primary probably holds the key to the Democratic nomination. And New Hampshire, alone, swung from Bush to Kerry in ’04.

It’s hard to see any Democrat winning the White House without carrying the state in the presidential election. And it’s hard, right now, to see Hillary carrying the state.

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