CLINTON CAMPAIGN IN CRISIS: Absent in Critical Time

Looks like Clinton’s campaign strategy is backfiring on her because of her health. Do you think she’s going to suffer in the general election now because of it?

For much of the summer, Hillary Clinton deliberately kept a low public profile, fund-raising in private and pursuing a hands-off campaign strategy: If Donald J. Trump wanted to seize center stage by picking unpopular fights — with a Gold Star father, a federal judge, the leaders of his own party — she would not stand in his way.

Now, sidelined with pneumonia just as she hoped to reintroduce herself with a series of more personal policy speeches, Mrs. Clinton has left herself uniquely vulnerable to an unplanned absence.

Her dismal public standing on questions of candor, combined with decades of conspiracy theories about her health, had already produced an uncommon challenge for aides and supporters seeking to tamp down speculation about her physical condition.

More substantively, among Democrats worried that Mrs. Clinton has failed to make a more forceful case for her candidacy since the party’s convention, her illness has reinforced the danger of a Trump-centric strategy — leaving the Clinton side without a memorable affirmative message to hammer home, especially when its chief messenger is on the mend.

The focus on Mr. Trump has done little to remedy Mrs. Clinton’s trust deficit with voters. And despite volumes of policy proposals, even Clinton supporters often strain to identify cohesive themes, independent of Mr. Trump, in her campaign.

Aides said last week that she planned to give several speeches aimed at connecting her personal motivations to her political agenda. The second in the series, slated for Tuesday, was postponed after she fell ill.

“They’ve clearly framed the race as a referendum on Donald Trump,” said Steve McMahon, a longtime Democratic strategist. “That does create a vacuum and a greater level of interest in things like this that, frankly, probably have no special significance.”

In recent days, with the election nearing its final stretch, Mrs. Clinton had shown signs of more openness after months of encouragement from advisers to hold more news conferences, sit for more interviews and brandish the dry charm they have encountered in private. Last week, she brought out a new campaign plane with room for reporters to fly with her and stood for extended questions from her traveling press corps, for the first time in several months, without major incident.

The campaign also introduced a new advertisement, a largely positive spot focused on Mrs. Clinton’s history of working with Republicans. She is seated, speaking directly to the camera, evoking a biographical video from the Democratic National Convention in July that highlighted her career accomplishments and compassion.

“They’re going back to that part of the convention that got lost in the month of August,” said Bob Shrum, a veteran Democratic adviser and strategist.

Brian Fallon, a campaign spokesman, said that Mrs. Clinton would continue her speech tour once she returned to full health, with addresses focused on “an inclusive economy,” “a call to national service” and “a vision for how we should prioritize the condition of kids and families.”

“We’re going to pick up right where we left off in terms of sparking a conversation about her aspirational vision for the country,” Mr. Fallon said in an interview. “I think that that will be far more enduring in the course of this campaign than this brief focus on this case of pneumonia.”

But the diagnosis has proved particularly ill timed, not least because of recent ominous insinuations from Republicans, including Mr. Trump, that Mrs. Clinton’s health was faltering.

In the past, she has tried to deflect questions with humor, opening a jar of pickles to demonstrate her vitality on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” last month and asking the host to take her pulse. This time, there has been no such attempt at levity.

Her campaign’s handling of the episode has also exacerbated an impression that she is overly guarded, a trait that Clinton allies have long attributed to an endless feedback loop: She retreats to secrecy because she distrusts the news media, they say, creating a sense that there is something to hide, which makes reporters more wary.

“The past impressions of Hillary Clinton help fuel the questions about being transparent about her health,” said Joe Trippi, a Democratic operative who helped steer campaigns for Howard Dean and Richard A. Gephardt, among others. “No one would have asked them of Dick Gephardt.”

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