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Obama alternates a supportive message for Hillary Clinton with tough words about Donald Trump

Obama alternates a supportive message for Hillary Clinton with tough words about Donald Trump
President Obama campaigns for Hillary Clinton in Philadelphia on Tuesday. (Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images)

President Obama hadn't hit the campaign trail in a while. So he wanted to make sure Tuesday that voters remembered where he stood.

"I am really into electing Hillary Clinton," Obama told a crowd at an outdoor rally in Philadelphia. "This is not me going through the motions here. I really, really, really want to elect Hillary Clinton."

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Obama's day job has kept him busy, but he returned to the stump with vigor, alternately making the case for his former secretary of State and repudiating Republican nominee Donald Trump, often with biting sarcasm.

"This guy who spent 70 years on this earth showing no concern for working people — this guy's suddenly going to be your champion?" Obama asked.

In front of an enthusiastic crowd, the president previewed a role he will play with greater regularity in the campaign's closing weeks as Clinton's most high-profile advocate. Both the White House and Clinton's campaign aim to use the power of the presidential seal, Obama's enhanced popularity and his credibility with key segments of voters to preserve the presidency for Democrats, and much of his personal legacy in the process.

The president's last public campaign appearance was nearly seven weeks ago, also here in Philadelphia, where he delivered a full-throated endorsement of Clinton at the Democratic convention.

Since then, he's traveled to Asia for a series of international summits. He's also minding an admittedly scant legislative agenda while Congress is in town. On Monday, he met with the top leaders in both parties to discuss a government funding measure that must be passed by month's end to avoid a pre-election government shutdown.

But aware that the campaign is roiling around, and often overshadowing, him, Obama is increasingly eager to engage more fully in the debate himself.

"Even though I have run my last campaign, I am going to work as hard as I can this fall to elect Hillary Clinton as our next president," Obama said.

His return to the campaign trail couldn't have come at a better time for her as she recuperates from pneumonia, which her campaign delayed in revealing, renewing widespread criticism about her level of transparency.

Obama made a subtle reference to Clinton's health, lauding her for the stamina she displayed on record-setting travel as his top diplomat. He focused more on her character and her readiness to assume the office.

"This is not the usual choice between parties and policies and left and right. This is more fundamental," Obama said. "This is a fundamental choice about who we are as a people. This is a choice about the very meaning of America."

A message of staying the course typically doesn't help a party seeking a third consecutive term in the White House. And second-term presidents have rarely been as active on the campaign trail as Obama intends to be this fall.

But a new Washington Post/ABC News poll showed Obama enjoying his strongest poll numbers in years, with 58% of those surveyed saying they approved of his job performance. That makes him a valuable asset for the Clinton campaign as she struggles to win over skeptical voters frustrated with both of their options.

And Obama came into the event with more good news, citing fresh Census data that showed household incomes grew sharply in 2015 after years of stagnation.

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"We've shown that progress is possible," Obama said, declaring he was ready to "pass the baton" to Clinton.

Obama's exact fall itinerary is a work in progress. The White House political office works with Clinton campaign officials in devising the most effective deployment of the commander in chief, with a special focus on how to drive likely Democratic voters to register and vote. Senior Democrats are reluctant to speculate about just how much, if at all, voter turnout might deviate from Obama's two campaigns.

Obama also publicly voiced frustration over news coverage of the race that he and many Democrats have expressed privately, agitating over what he sees as a false equivalency between the liabilities of two of the least-liked nominees in generations.

"Donald Trump says stuff every day that used to be considered as disqualifying for being president. Because he says it over and over again, the press just gives up," he said. "We cannot afford to treat this like a reality show."

He also rebuked Trump for his fondness for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Obama has to do business with Putin, he noted, but he hardly considered him a role model.

"Can you imagine Ronald Reagan idolizing someone like that?" he asked.

As for Clinton, he underscored her dogged nature, talking at length about their prolonged 2008 Democratic primary battle.

"No matter how daunting the odds, no matter how many times people knock her down and mess with her, she does not quit," he said. "That's the Hillary that I know. And that's why I really want to get her elected."

For more 2016 campaign coverage, follow @mikememoli on Twitter

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UPDATES:

3:10 p.m.: This story was updated with Obama's comments.

This story was originally published at 3 a.m.

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