The fates of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, two former bitter rivals, are now inextricably bound together. Never will that be more clear than on Tuesday, when they campaign together for the first time in eight years in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Obama’s approval ratings — and his Department of Justice, which, through the FBI, is investigating Clinton’s use of a private email server as Secretary of State — will help determine if Clinton can become only the second person since World War II to earn a third White House term for the same party. Meanwhile, Obama needs Clinton to defend his legacy by defeating Donald Trump, who rose to political prominence waging a “birther” crusade against Obama and has vowed to undo many of the president’s accomplishments in office.
The Clinton-Obama relationship will face an even more immediate and dramatic test in the ongoing FBI investigation. On Saturday, agents spent more than three hours interviewing Clinton, who suffers from poor ratings on trust and honesty.
Obama has repeatedly defended Clinton on the issue, saying in April, “I continue to believe that she has not jeopardized America’s national security.” Comments like that, in addition to Bill Clinton’s recent impromptu meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, have led critics to accuse the president of biasing the investigation being conducted by agencies he oversees.
Obama remained formally neutral throughout the Democratic primary, but was a powerful asset for Clinton even in absentia.Her tenure in his cabinet served as a tacit endorsement, which Clinton wielded effectively against rival Bernie Sanders. “I went with Barack Obama. You did not,” Clinton said during their final debate in Brooklyn, while knocking Sanders for voting against the auto bailout Obama championed.
Clinton narrowly lost the 2008 Democratic nomination to Obama in a race for the ages. She began her second presidential bid by saying at almost every campaign stop that she was not running for a third term of Barack Obama or her husband, former president Bill Clinton. But she quietly jettisoned that line at the beginning of this year.
On Tuesday, the president can help Clinton pursue her two biggest goals of the moment: Win over Bernie Sanders supporters and paint Trump as patently unqualified to be president.Obama’s job approval rating has ticked up to a healthy 50 percent, making him far more popular than George W. Bush was at this point in his presidency.
And Obama is popular with virtually every Democratic constituency in the country. Eighty-two percent of Sanders voters approve of the job Obama is doing, according to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, along with 64 percent of young people, Clinton’s major demographic weak spot.
Meanwhile, Obama is also reasonably popular with more up-for-grabs groups, like suburban women, whom Clinton’s campaign is heavily courting.Drawing on their bitter contest from eight years ago, Obama will likely make a direct appeal to Sanders supporters. He can say that he, too, didn’t like Clinton initially, but has since come to understand why she’d be a good president and they should too.