CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It was all good between these two this time, with President Barack Obama at first taking a literal back seat to Hillary Clinton onstage as she made her case. That also meant he was the closer, one who laced his Tuesday speech with endorsements, humor — much of it directed at “the other guy” — and repeated pleas for the crowd to get out and vote for the woman he said “won’t waver, won’t back down, won’t quit.” Obama said: “Those things matter.”
It mattered to an enthusiastic and diverse crowd of thousands in Charlotte that clearly loves this president and yelled exactly those sentiments to him from time to time. A line that wrapped around the Charlotte Convention Center started in the morning. He was the star who relished being back on the campaign trail, this time as cheerleader-in-chief, leading a chant of HILL-A-RY, HILL-A-RY for the first stop on the “Stronger Together” tour in the battleground state of North Carolina.
Obama and Clinton, his former secretary of state and now the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, hugged as if her future and his legacy depended on it.
It wasn’t always so cozy in the Carolinas for these two. But 2008, when they were competitors, was a long time ago in political years and a lot has happened since then.
Two smart, ambitious people who started out as competitors, discovered the values they share – a strong America where everyone gets a fair and equal shake – learned to admire each other despite a rocky beginning, and came together for positive policy change.
After Obama talked about her accomplishments as secretary of state, he said, “There has never been any man or woman more qualified for this office.” He said he admired her resilience and, especially, the way she treated everybody with respect “when the cameras are off.”
Obama called America a young country. “We like new things,” he said, and “I benefited.” But he said that means someone who’s been in the trenches is taken for granted. And as Obama went directly at the criticism that Hillary Clinton isn’t as exciting as she needs to be, it seemed to complete the theme the two will surely take on the road.
Of course, North Carolina already has lots of political drama up and down the ticket, with incumbent GOP Gov. Pat McCrory in a tight re-election race against current Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper , Democrat Deborah Ross trying to unseat U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, the balance of the state Supreme Court at stake and issues from LGBT rights and voting requirements and re-districting driving passion on both sides.
It’s a state that Obama barely won in 2008 and barely lost to Mitt Romney in 2012, Clinton has high hopes to turn the purple blue. Polls are close , but give her plenty of hope. She has been making the case for herself and against her likely opponent in ads on heavy rotation in the state.
An appearance by a president with a rising approval rating in a diverse state that ranges from the rural to the high-tech Research Triangle, with a substantial African-American voting population and a growing number of politically engaged Hispanics , would only add to the excitement and fuel the turnout her campaign needs.
Did it work? And was the drama of this first-time campaigning duo enough to move past Tuesday’s other big news? That was, of course, FBI Director James B. Comey announcing the bureau would not recommend charges against Clinton over the mishandling of classified documents on her personal email server , though he called out the former Secretary of State and her staff for being “extremely careless,”
Carolyn Chabora voted for Obama in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012. The 71-year-old retired lawyer has been a Republican all her life, but at Tuesday’s rally wore a T-shirt she had stenciled with the slogan: “Republican Women for Hillary.” She lives in Palm City, Florida, and traveled to Charlotte from her summer home in Cashiers, North Carolina.
On the emails, the former student of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at Rutgers School of Law, said that while there are some things she knows Clinton wish she had never done, she believes her use of a private server was for privacy and not done maliciously.
But Chabora also called Clinton “honest, trustworthy and very smart – smarter than her husband.”
William McIlwain, 57, and his wife, Mary Beth Ferrell, 55, both public high school English teachers came from Winston-Salem, N.C., for the rally. The long-time Democrats approve of Clinton’s platform to continue the Obama legacy.
“Given what’s happened in North Carolina, I’m really thrilled to see them,” said McIlwain, listing House Bill 2, on LGBT rights, and other conservative legislation. “North Carolina has gotten a black eye.
Roll Call columnist Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun and The Charlotte Observer. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3