After restless months on the sidelines, President Obama will jump into the presidential campaign fray Tuesday with his first appearance with Hillary Clinton at a rally in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Mr. Obama’s formal entrance into the campaign gives the presumptive Democratic nominee an advantage that is rare in the modern era — the active backing of a two-term president who is popular enough and active enough in the final year of his presidency to help his party’s nominee at the polls. The president’s job approval rating is hovering just over 50 percent, according to the latest Gallup daily tracking poll.
“These moments don’t come too often,” said Donna Brazile, vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee and campaign manager for Al Gore’s presidential bid in 2000. “I think it’s a great moment for her to reach deeper into the Democratic Party, but also to expand the base beyond just Democrats.”
When they were rivals for the presidency eight years ago, Mr. Obama famously referred to Mrs. Clinton without enthusiasm as “likable enough.” Now, they need each other.
Mr. Obama needs Mrs. Clinton to win to block presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump and to continue his legacy on the Affordable Care Act, climate change, clean energy and other policies. Mrs. Clinton needs the president to reassemble his winning coalition from 2008 and 2012, especially the younger voters who favored Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont in the Democratic primary race.
“President Obama expanded the electorate [in 2008 and 2012],” Ms. Brazile said. “He got new people to register, especially millennials. I think that’s one of the gaps that she needs to fill. He’s going to lift up a lot more than Democrats with his speech.”
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One sign of Mr. Obama’s draw on the campaign trail this year: The Charlotte Observer reported that Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Deborah Ross and gubernatorial candidate Roy Cooper will be at the Charlotte Convention Center for the rally. Both, the paper noted, did not attend when Mrs. Clinton spoke alone last month at a rally in Raleigh.
Although most Democrats are excited that Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton will unite on the campaign trail, the timing of their rally is hardly ideal. The Clinton campaign planned to hold its first rally with Mr. Obama in Green Bay, Wisconsin, on June 15, but the event was postponed in the aftermath of the terrorist attack at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
Their rescheduled joint appearance will be just a week after former President Bill Clinton caused a furor by inviting himself onto the government plane of Attorney General Loretta Lynch on the Phoenix airport tarmac. Ms. Lynch acknowledged that the half-hour chat “cast a shadow” on her ability to decide impartially whether the Justice Department should bring criminal charges in an investigation of Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state.
FBI agents interviewed Mrs. Clinton for 3½ hours in the probe Saturday at her home in Washington.
North Carolina tensions
The rally in Charlotte also will be during the Obama administration’s dispute with North Carolina’s Republican-dominated state government over its law requiring transgender people to use restrooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates in many public buildings. The law also excludes gender identity and sexual orientation as a basis for bias claims. State lawmakers declined to make major changes to the law late last week.
White House officials said Mr. Obama isn’t likely to dwell Tuesday on the LGBT controversy in North Carolina, which has emerged as a key battleground state.
“The focus of the president’s remarks in Charlotte will be on Secretary Clinton, and his view that she has the character, the toughness, skills and experience to succeed him as president of the United States,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest.
In 2012, Mr. Obama lost North Carolina to Republican Mitt Romney by 2 percentage points. The state is rated as a tossup this year.
On Tuesday night, Mr. Trump will speak in Raleigh, where he is expected to blast Mrs. Clinton for, in effect, running for a third Obama term. The Republican has not aired campaign ads in the state, which has 15 electoral votes.
North Carolina has 2.6 million registered Democrats, about 2 million registered Republicans and 1.9 million unaffiliated registered voters.
Presidential advisers say Mr. Obama will deliver a positive message focusing on Mrs. Clinton’s credentials, but the president has been unable to conceal his contempt for Mr. Trump. For months, Mr. Obama has tossed thinly veiled barbs at the billionaire developer and reality TV star while waiting for the outcome of Mrs. Clinton’s primary election battle.
During a visit to Canada last week, the president belittled Mr. Trump’s “populist” image and described him as someone “who has never shown any regard for workers, has never fought on behalf of social justice issues.”
Mr. Obama has let it be known that he believes Mr. Trump lacks the temperament and character to be commander in chief.
There’s also a practical, partisan consideration — that his presidential legacy would go up in smoke under a Trump administration. The Republican has vowed to unravel the Affordable Care Act, revoke the Iranian nuclear deal, rescind a variety of Mr. Obama’s executive orders and rip up the president’s free trade agreements.
Ms. Brazile said the president is motivated by his vision for America, not by any animosity for Mr. Trump. She also said Mr. Trump is the one who started the squabbles by questioning Mr. Obama’s birthplace and citizenship during his first term.
“Donald Trump was the one who went after President Obama in 2011,” she said. “So this notion that somehow or another this is about revenge, that’s not the case. This president is concerned about the country and the future, not just one politician out of thousands. He understands that the presidency, the Congress, the Supreme Court, everything is at stake in this election cycle.”
In an email to supporters last weekend, Mr. Obama urged Democrats to donate money to Organizing for Action, the grass-roots group that spun off from his 2012 re-election campaign. He said his work of the past eight years is at stake in this election.
“We can’t become complacent,” Mr. Obama said. “Progress isn’t inevitable. We’ve got more work to do and more ground to cover.”
Mr. Obama said he hopes the defeat of Mr. Trump in November will cause the Republican Party to engage in some soul-searching.
“If we get the decisions that need to be made right, then 10 years from now, 20 years from now, we may look back at something like the Trump campaign as the last vestige of a kind of politics of ‘us versus them’ that really doesn’t apply to today,” Mr. Obama told NPR last week.