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For A Damaged Hillary Clinton, Now What?

Though her victory in New York nearly assures a path to the Democratic nominee, the stature of the former Secretary of State has been weakened in her battle with Bernie Sanders. How does she adjust for November?

Clinton in New York on Tuesday night
Clinton in New York on Tuesday night
Dan Balz

Hillary Clinton got what she needed in New York, a solid victory that stopped Bernie Sanders’s weeks-long winning streak. But any cause for celebration among her supporters probably will be tempered by the reality that her unexpectedly difficult nomination battle has taken a significant toll on her candidacy.

By the end of next week’s contests in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware, her lead in pledged delegates in all likelihood will be insurmountable. For Sanders, there seemingly will be no path to the nomination other than the unlikely strategy of trying to persuade superdelegates to go against the will of Democratic voters.

By the beginning of May, Clinton will be at liberty to turn her attention to the general election. At that point, turning around public perceptions will be crucial if she hopes not just to win the presidency but to be able to rally the country behind her agenda.

The good news for Clinton â€" and Democrats will seize on this â€" is that, against either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz in a possible general election matchup, she looks strong. That’s especially the case against Trump, who continues to run up negative numbers unheard of for a potential major-party nominee. But Trump’s problems do not diminish the fact that, standing alone, Clinton looks much weaker than recent nominees.

Republicans must be gnashing their teeth over the fact that their two leading candidates are unpopular while the candidates with the third- and fourth-most delegates â€" Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who suspended his campaign in March, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who hopes for a miracle at the GOP convention â€" would be far stronger against Clinton.

The damage to Clinton from her battle with Sanders is borne out in the latest NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll. The longer this race has gone on, the more she has shown vulnerabilities. The top-line number that caught the eyes of so many analysts shows her now in a dead heat with Sanders nationally â€" ahead of him by just two percentage points, 50 to 48 percent.

Those numbers have no influence on the state-by-state results but offer a window into both the success of Sanders in generating enthusiasm and Clinton’s inability to capitalize on all her political advantages. Since October, when her candidacy began rising again after several months of controversy about her use of a private email server, she has been on a downward slide. Her lead over the senator from Vermont has dropped from what was then a 31-point advantage to the current two points.

Meanwhile, her negative ratings have been rising and now outweigh her positives by 24 points, according to the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll. That makes her seen no more favorably than Cruz is. Her only salvation is that Trump’s net negative is minus 41. Sanders, meanwhile, has a net positive of nine points â€" although it’s fair to say that one reason for that is that he has received far less in the way of attacks from Republicans or scrutiny from the media than Clinton has.Clinton’s image is at or near record lows among major demographic groups. Among men, she is at minus 40. Among women, she is at minus nine. Among whites, she is at minus 39. Among white women, she is at minus 25. Among white men, she is at minus 72. Her favorability among whites at this point in the election cycle is worse than President Obama’s ever has been, according to Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster who conducted the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll with Democratic pollster Peter Hart.

Minority voters have been the linchpin of Clinton’s nomination strategy and were a key to her success in New York. Among African Americans nationally, the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll shows her with a net positive of 51 points. But that’s down 13 points from her first-quarter average and is about at her lowest ever. Among Latinos, her net positive is just two points, down from plus 21 points during the first quarter.

Voters’ perceptions of her having the knowledge and experience to be president remain strongly positive and unchanged since last fall. On other measures, such as whether she is easygoing and likable, or “shares your position on issues,” or is able to bring real change to the country, or is honest and straightforward, she has seen her standing erode since last fall and even more when compared with her first presidential campaign, in 2008.

“By any conventional standard, this is a candidate who’s been disqualified to be president by the voters,” McInturff said. “Her terrible numbers for months have been masked because we have the one candidate in modern history who has worse numbers. The spectacle of Donald Trump has gotten so much attention that she’s slipped under the radar for what ought to be a real story. . . . Her numbers have gone from terrible to historic and disqualifying.”

New York voters head to the polls for the Republican and Democratic presidential primaries.

Democrats see Sanders as an agent in Clinton’s decline, arguing that in recent weeks his attacks have been aimed less at policy differences and more at questions about her character. Sanders has attacked Clinton as being too cozy with Wall Street, too dependent on big money and for not releasing transcripts of her paid speeches to Goldman Sachs.

“It’s hard to dispute the rising negatives,” said Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg. “I was actually surprised when Sanders began not just to make that personal but appeared to be producing enduring damage.”

Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster who is working with Priorities USA, a pro-Clinton super PAC, said the primaries have reinforced perceptions of the former secretary of state as “strong, smart and resilient” and as a candidate with a policy agenda far more in tune with the electorate than what Republicans are offering. But he also said that Sanders’s attacks have “reinforced stereotypes that are untrue but challenging nonetheless” for Clinton.

Other candidates have come out of tough nominating contests badly bruised, including Clinton’s husband, former president Bill Clinton, in 1992. He was successful, through a major effort by his campaign, in turning around his image in the time between the end of the primaries in early June of that year and the end of his convention later in the summer.

Can she follow Bill's lead from 1992? â€" Photo: White House

Republicans believe that Clinton is so well known that she will have difficulty changing minds. “She is substantially weaker as a candidate than I expected and substantially less able to create a compelling persona on the stump,” said Whit Ayres, who was Rubio’s campaign pollster.

Greenberg said there certainly was more room for Bill Clinton to get a second look from voters because he was newer to the national stage. But Greenberg noted that Hillary Clinton has been able to rebound in the past and said she can do so again. “I don’t think there’s the same degree of freedom as her husband had, but there’s room to improve,” he said. “And I wouldn’t overlook this broad base of voters that wants to vote for a Democrat and doesn’t want to vote for a Trump or Cruz.”

Garin added, “I think people are making a mistake if they believe that the numbers you see today inevitably are going to define her standing two or three months from now. Things are not nearly as etched in stone as one would think.”

It is doubtful Clinton imagined a year ago, as she was making early trips to Iowa and New Hampshire, that the nominating contest would be as competitive and bruising as it has turned out to be. She may be lucky in her potential general election opponent, but she has work to do to get ready for what lies ahead.

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Green

Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.


"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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