President Barack Obama has joined Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail for the first time in 2016, telling a crowd in Charlotte, North Carolina that “there has never been any man or woman more qualified” for the presidency than the former Secretary of State.
Painting his erstwhile primary rival as the person best placed to carry on his own legacy, Mr Obama explained how his admiration for Ms Clinton had grown despite their long and bitter battle for the 2008 Democratic nomination. She later proved to be a formidable partner at the State Department, Mr Obama recalled, during an impassioned speech touting both her character and credentials. “My faith in Hillary Clinton has always been rewarded,” he said.
It is rare if not unprecedented for a sitting President to campaign alongside a presumptive party nominee prior to the party’s nominating convention, but Mr Obama was reportedly eager to stump for Ms Clinton – and against Donald Trump. The President did not disguise his disdain for Mr Trump, whose views he characterized as shallow, regressive and intolerant. “Everybody can tweet,” he said. “But no one actually knows what it takes to do the job until you sit behind the desk.”
Mr Obama is seen as a key campaign asset for Ms Clinton, who has assembled team of heavy-hitting Democratic surrogates to support her White House bid. Last week she campaigned alongside Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren in Ohio; later this week, Vice President Joe Biden will join her on the stump in Pennsylvania. But no one hits harder than Mr Obama, whose approval ratings have climbed well above 50 per cent in the closing months of his presidency.
Speaking on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Obama reminded the crowd in Charlotte that Ms Clinton also enjoyed sky-high approval ratings during her tenure at the State Department. “Everybody thought she was doing a great job,” he said, blaming her current high unfavorable ratings on the “political machinery” operated by her opponents.
Describing Ms Clinton as a smart, ultra-prepared political fighter who “won’t waver, won’t back down and will not quit,” Mr Obama said that, as President, she would be a respected and responsible figure on the world stage. “She’ll deploy diplomacy whenever possible, but she also knows what it takes to be a Commander-in-Chief, and I know she’ll never hesitate to use force when it is necessary to protect us,” he said.
The event was overshadowed by the announcement from FBI director James Comey, earlier on Tuesday, that his agency had concluded its investigation into Ms Clinton’s use of a private email server. Though Mr Comey did not recommend criminal charges, he said Ms Clinton had been “extremely careless” in her handling of classified correspondence as Secretary of State.
Neither Ms Clinton nor Mr Obama touched on the controversy in their remarks. Ms Clinton emphasised how close she had grown to Mr Obama and his family since the “hard-fought” 2008 primary, borrowing some of his best-known rhetorical phrases to bind her campaign to his presidency. “We’re going to build on the vision for America that President Obama has always championed,” she said, “where we do great things together – not as red states and blue states, but as the United States.”
North Carolina voted for Mr Obama in 2008 and for his Republican rival Mitt Romney in 2012, and is expected to be a key general election battleground again this year. Donald Trump was due to hold his own rally later on Tuesday in Raleigh, 150 miles from Charlotte, where he was expected to make hay with the news regarding Ms Clinton’s emails.
He also criticized Mr Obama for giving the presumptive Democratic nominee a lift from Washington DC to their joint event on Air Force One. “Taxpayers are paying a fortune for the use of Air Force One on the campaign trail by President Obama and Crooked Hillary,” the property mogul tweeted. “A total disgrace!”