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Clinton Campaign Attempts To Introduce A Candidate Who Needs No Introduction

In the race for president, at the moment, Hillary Clinton has an edge.

Not only do a slew of national polls show her with a lead, but she has the commercial airwaves to herself because Donald Trump hasn't yet run a single general election ad. Clinton and her allies are using a considerable cash advantage to spend millions of dollars on ads in key swing states.

There are contrast ads, like the one above, aimed at defining Trump before he can define himself — for millions of people who will vote in November for the first time.

But the bulk of the Clinton campaign's ad spending is aimed at defining Clinton, herself, a candidate who has been on the national stage in various capacities since 1992. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found Clinton to be the most unpopular candidate to run for president, that is, aside from Trump who has an even higher negative rating.

Virtually everyone in America knows Clinton's name. And most people have firmly formed opinions of her, which became clear when NPR interviewed voters in Columbus, Ohio, and asked them to free associate when they heard her name.

"She's been planning on running for president for a while now," said Katie Dorrian, 24.

"Liar," said Tork Williams, who plans to vote for Trump in November. "She should be in prison."

"She's done a lot of good things," said Michael Link.

"I know that she has often changed her position based on what's popular at the time and I am not a super fan of that," said Hannah Russell.

Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said this familiarity is a real challenge for the Clinton campaign.

"There's this ironic dimension with her, where people think: 'I don't need to research anything. I know her,'" Lake said in a phone interview.

How do you introduce a candidate who needs no introduction?

"If this were a brand new candidate in today's world, they'd get online and they'd Google Hillary Clinton and they'd really research her," Lake said. But voters don't proactively research her, because they think they already know her, so you have to buy their attention honestly."

And that's exactly what the Clinton campaign is doing, blanketing the airwaves with ads in Ohio, Florida, Colorado and five other swing states. The bulk of the spending is on ads that use soft tones to tell voters about Clinton's early career, like this one:

The ad, about Clinton's behind the scenes work on the Children's Health Insurance Program, has been in particularly heavy rotation, according to a Democrat tracking media buys.

"This is an anecdote where she got results but it's also an instance that it shows the consistency of her commitment to these issues throughout her career," said Brian Fallon, a spokesman for the campaign.

For the campaign, this is a perfect illustration of Clinton's passion and pragmatism. And they like the narrative of the Children's Health Insurance Plan so much, the campaign released another ad on the subject over the weekend, despite a dispute about whether Clinton and her team are overselling her role.

So, smartphone in hand, we played the ad for some voters. For those who are sold on Clinton, it reinforced the reasons they like their candidate.

And for those who aren't sold on her?

"I honestly just laughed at it," said Kelsey Barrett, who voted Republican in 2012, but said she's undecided this time around. "I think it's, she's over-compensating right now with that ad."

Over compensating for Clinton's sky high negative ratings, Barrett said.

Tork Williams is a coal miner by trade and believes Clinton is responsible for the deaths in Benghazi and should be in prison for her use of email. The ad, he said, didn't do much to soften his view of Clinton.

"She may have helped do that," said Williams after watching the ad. "I mean — I'm not saying that she's completely evil. But just the things she's done. She's probably done some good things. There's no doubt about it. Everybody has."

But he said there's nothing Clinton could do right or Donald Trump could do wrong that would make him vote for her.

The ad puzzled Hannah Russell.

"That's weird," Russell said after watching the ad. "I have never thought of Hillary Clinton and children really in the same context."

Russell supported Bernie Sanders in the primary. She wasn't exactly persuaded by Clinton's ad. But she said she'll vote for Clinton anyway given this year's menu of candidates.

"I'd rather eat the chicken nuggets than the scorpions," Russell said.

Clinton's campaign and allied SuperPAC are in the process of trying to convince voters in key states that those nuggets are appetizing and the scorpions are too dangerous to try.

And from Trump's campaign — there's not a single ad on the air to argue something different.

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Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.