Hillary Clinton campaign faces a deficit of a vital commodity - enthusiasm

Hillary Clinton (above) tends to arrive late, while the Donald Trump Show always begins on time.
Hillary Clinton (above) tends to arrive late, while the Donald Trump Show always begins on time.PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - His rallies are like raucous circuses, interrupted by the clamour of a captivated crowd that is quick to finish his sentences. Hers seem more like sober presidential addresses, exhaustive litanies of proposals presented to well-behaved supporters.

Making matters worse, Hillary Clinton tends to arrive late, while the Donald Trump Show always begins on time.

With the US presidential election about to enter a new phase, the Democratic candidate suffers from a glaring enthusiasm deficit, threatened by Bernie Sanders in the final primaries in June and unable to contain Republican charges of ethical lapses fuelled by her use of a private e-mail server as secretary of state.

The contrast could not be more striking between Clinton's controlled appearances and the fervent chaos that surrounds the public events of the billionaire populist, who strides onto stage to the deafening beat of 2 Unlimited's Get Ready For This.

"Trump! Trump!" roared thousands of his supporters recently at a convention centre in Anaheim, California, before breaking into cries of "Build the wall! Build the wall!"

His speech is improvised, basic, disjointed. He promises to bring manufacturing jobs back to America but offers no detail than to threaten customs sanctions against companies that move their operations abroad.

He seems at times to create his own facts. "I'm telling you, women like me," he says; and, "The Hispanics are liking Donald Trump," both observations sharply contradicted by opinion polls.

He stirs up the crowd by deriding the "stupidity" of the country's leaders and contrasting it to his own business aptitude.

"We're going to win so much you're going to be so disgusted with me," he concludes, drawing a thunderous ovation.

This is the Trump formula: his supporters - young or old, well-off or down-and-out, but nearly all white (a declining share of the electorate) - gamble on an "outsider" who claims to hold the secret to economic revival, as if America had nothing to lose.

"There's nothing much more he could actually want in his life: he has a ton of money, he's really famous, he has a beautiful family, so he's really doing it for us, the American people," says Joe, 25, a university student who declines to give his last name.

At a Clinton event near Los Angeles, impatience is palpable as supporters await her arrival. The playlist (Katy Perry, Jennifer Lopez...) runs on an endless loop, and a sigh of dismay courses through the auditorium when a seventh speaker steps up to the microphone. Hillary Clinton arrives 45 minutes late.

"I guess we should have gotten a bigger room," she tells the crowd of 1,200 in the suburban Riverside campus, apologising that some people were left outside. But her advance team had chosen this gymnasium precisely for its modest size.

Only Bernie Sanders has drawn crowds like Trump's.

Hillary Clinton has been campaigning on her stature as a stateswoman with serious ideas to offer, warning voters that Trump is a "loose cannon" unprepared to lead the country.

But the exhaustive nature of her proposals does little to make up for the sometimes numbing way she presents them.

"It's a lonely job, it's the hardest job in the world," she says.

Clinton promises no revolution but rather the continuation of progress made under President Barack Obama: an increase in the minimum wage, improvements to infrastructure, attention to women's rights, foreign policy, immigration and so on.

"I will fight for you, I will fight for us every single day," she concludes.

That argument has won over a majority of Democrats, and her supporters invariably express admiration for the arc of her professional journey, her policy expertise and the strength of her character.

"It's a positive thing that she's been in the political field for so long," said Philip Falcone, 18, a recent high school graduate, adding that "she's had more success" than her rivals.

Clinton's challenge now is to unify Democrats while drawing the needed support of independents.

Given her strong advantages among women, African-Americans and Hispanics, the election would seem to be a cakewalk.

Yet her image is in decline: nearly two-thirds of Americans believe she is not honest, the same as for Trump. Her edge in polls has nearly vanished. All this raises the question: What if the wave of enthusiasm Trump has been riding should carry on to November?

Fans of Bernie Sanders, some of whom protested at the Riverside rally, expressed doubts about Clinton's ethics.

"Hillary's pretty strong," said Chiraag Dave, 19, an electrical engineering student. But he added that "I've read many articles about the muddy waters that she's been (in) around Wall Street," which he called "all a little murky."

That line of attack could have come directly from the Trump camp.

"Hillary Clinton has contempt for the working people of this country," Stephen Miller, a top Trump policy adviser, told the crowd at the Anaheim rally.

"She just wants to get rich and rich and rich at your expense," he said, drawing loud boos.