President Obama infused new energy into Hillary Clinton’s bid for the White House on Tuesday as he joined her on the stump for the first time, making a forceful case for her candidacy after the two arrived together in Charlotte on Air Force One.
His address offered a glimpse into Obama’s role in the Clinton campaign, and it looks to be a potent one. Obama, a natural campaigner and the first president in decades to vigorously stump for a possible successor, captivated the crowd in a state that is a must-win for Donald Trump. He spoke admirably of Clinton’s experience and judgment while laying out the policy gains made under his administration that are at risk if Democrats lose the White House.
The rally came at a welcome time for Clinton, who is scrambling to contain the damage from the harsh assessments the FBI made about her email practices while secretary of State. Though the FBI revealed Tuesday that it had advised against indicting Clinton, bureau Director James B. Comey described setting up a private server in her house as reckless.
Neither Obama nor Clinton mentioned the FBI findings before the large crowd at the Charlotte Convention Center. But Obama spoke at length about Clinton’s character and why he believes she is the most qualified nominee Democrats have ever had.
“Sometimes we act as if never having done something and not knowing what you are doing is a virtue,” Obama said, implicitly criticizing Trump while at the same time joking about how he himself benefited in 2008 from the voter excitement a fresh face can generate. “That means sometimes Hillary doesn’t get the credit she deserves. The fact is, Hillary is steady. And Hillary is true. And she is in politics for the same reasons I am: because we can improve people’s lives through this work.”
Obama spoke extensively about his personal experience with Clinton.
He lauded what he described as her preparedness when he tangled with her as a political opponent, her grace and sense of mission when she campaigned with him after their bruising primary fight in 2008, and her steady hand and judgment when she advised him in the White House Situation Room on the night Osama bin Laden was killed.
“I saw how she treated everybody with respect, even the folks who aren’t quote-unquote ‘important,’” Obama said. “That’s how you judge someone, how they treat someone when the cameras are off.… I saw how you can count on her, how she won’t waver, won’t back down. How she won’t quit.”
Obama’s easiness on the stump was a notable contrast to Clinton, who largely stuck to her standard campaign talking points when she spoke, with the exception of a jab at Trump’s past demands that Obama share his birth certificate to prove he is a U.S. citizen. The president peppered his remarks with crowd-pleasing one-liners about North Carolina food and its basketball and, of course, mockery of Trump.
Obama has been eager to start campaigning, and White House and Clinton campaign officials say the president will be a regular on the campaign trail, headlining events in swing states and working to reignite the coalition of young and minority voters who twice propelled him to victory. Obama appears as eager to help elect a friend and former Cabinet member as he is to protect his own legacy, made up in large part of regulations and directives he issued that a Democratic successor would protect and a Republican would likely be eager to undo.
The president spoke at length, and in sobering tones, about the policy gains at stake in the election, touching on climate change, workers’ rights, middle-class wages, college affordability and gun safety.
“You are going to have a very clear choice to make between two fundamentally very different visions of where Americans should go,” Obama said, taking aim at the scant policy positions the Trump campaign has developed.
“Each of these policies — the policies Hillary mentioned — would help working families feel more secure in today’s economy. She’s actually got a plan. It is actually paid for. You can actually look at it.”
Few nominees in recent history have had the advantage of such a popular incumbent vigorously campaigning on their behalf.
George W. Bush was hugely unpopular when John McCain was the GOP nominee in 2008. Al Gore kept his distance from incumbent Bill Clinton eight years earlier, feeling stung by the scandals the former president had attracted. Even Ronald Reagan, in his final months in office, did not have ratings as high or as strong a rapport with his party’s presumptive nominee as Obama has with Hillary Clinton.
The choice of location for Tuesday’s event was telling. Obama and Clinton initially planned to first campaign together in Wisconsin, amid worries about divisions among Democrats and whether Clinton could win over the supporters of Democrat Bernie Sanders, who beat Clinton there. The event was canceled in the aftermath of the mass shooting in Orlando.
In the weeks since, Clinton has made considerable gains with Sanders supporters. As a result, her lead over Trump nationally has grown to about 6 points in polling averages. In Wisconsin it is even bigger. That has enabled Democrats to reach for states that Republican Mitt Romney won in 2012, starting with North Carolina, where Trump and Clinton are locked in a close race.
But Clinton continues to suffer from low favorability ratings – just not as low as Trump’s. Democrats worry that if she does not lift them, a victory in November will come with a weak mandate. Clinton’s “record of being dishonest” was a serious concern for 69% of voters in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll last week, and the FBI findings Tuesday are certain to have created more problems in that regard.
The campaign is looking to Obama to help improve those numbers. In addition to experiencing resurgent popularity, with approval ratings as high as they were just after Bin Laden was killed, the president has also has managed to avoid the baggage of scandal that has accumulated around the Clintons over the years. Obama’s vouching for Clinton holds the promise of softening her image.
“My faith in Hillary Clinton has always been rewarded,” Obama said.
3:53 p.m.: This story was updated throughout with details and comments from Obama and Clinton’s rally.
8:57 a.m.: This story was updated with the FBI director’s announcement that he won’t recommend prosecution over Clinton’s use of a private email server.
This story was originally published at 3 a.m.