- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Saying there’s never been a more qualified presidential candidate in American history than Hillary Clinton, President Obama hit the campaign trail Tuesday for the first time this election cycle before a raucous rally in a key swing state, and offered a resounding endorsement of his former secretary of state.

The president’s glowing praise for Mrs. Clinton, and his harsh words for Republican candidate Donald Trump, at the campaign rally in Charlotte served as a preview of what’s to come between now and November. Led by Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton, Democrats will try to convince voters that the country is on the right track and needs to stay the course domestically and on foreign policy, and they’ll also try to paint Mr. Trump as unhinged, untrustworthy and unqualified to be commander in chief.

After flying down to North Carolina with Mrs. Clinton aboard Air Force One, Mr. Obama recalled how his own 2008 presidential primary fight against Mrs. Clinton showed him just how smart and tough the former first lady is, and why she’s the only viable option for voters this fall.

“I’m here for a simple reason. I’m here today because I believe in Hillary Clinton. And I want you to help elect her to be the next president of the United States of America,” the president said, periodically pausing from his prepared remarks to lead the energized Charlotte crowd in chants of “Hillary! Hillary!”

Hillary Clinton has been tested. … There has never been any man or woman more qualified for this office than Hillary Clinton. Ever. And that’s the truth,” Mr. Obama, who shed his jacket and rolled up his sleeves, continued. “So the bottom line is, I know Hillary can do the job, and that’s why I am so proud, North Carolina, to endorse Hillary Clinton as the next president of the United States.”

The Clinton campaign clearly sees Mr. Obama as a campaign trail asset, with his job-approval numbers in recent months ticking above 50 percent and his ability to mobilize key parts of the Democratic base that helped fuel his 2008 and 2012 victories. Mr. Obama carried North Carolina in 2008 but lost the state narrowly to Republican Mitt Romney in 2012. The Tarheel State is considered by many analysts as a must-win state for Mr. Trump as he tries to assemble a 270-vote majority in the Electoral College.

The Real Clear Politics aggregate of recent polls for North Carolina is a statistical tie — 44 percent for Mrs. Clinton to 43.3 percent for Mr. Trump.

FBI probe

The event came on the same day the FBI said it would not recommend criminal charges in connection with Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state, but neither Mr. Obama nor Mrs. Clinton addressed the decision — or FBI Director James B. Comey’s stinging criticism of her “extremely careless” handling of classified material — in their remarks.

At one point Mr. Obama did acknowledge that Mrs. Clinton has been the target of criticism, but said it was a function of her long career in the public spotlight as first lady, senator and secretary of state.

“Sometimes we take somebody who’s been in the trenches and fought the good fight and been steady for granted,” Mr. Obama said as Mrs. Clinton sat behind him. “As a consequence, that means sometimes Hillary doesn’t get the credit she deserves. But the fact is Hillary is steady, and Hillary is true.”

Instead, the president and his ex-rival didn’t miss an opportunity to take clear shots at Mr. Trump. Speaking before the president, Mrs. Clinton alternated between attacking the Republican billionaire and tightly tying herself to the president’s record.

On domestic affairs, she said the president helped dig the U.S. out of a crippling recession and set the nation on the right economic path forward — a path she says she’ll continue on if elected.

On foreign policy, not only did she not stray from the president’s record, she openly contrasted it with the platform of Mr. Trump.

“It was [Mr. Obama’s] vision and diplomacy that secured a historic global agreement on climate change,” Mrs. Clinton said of the president, also praising his diplomatic work with Cuba, temporarily halting Iran’s nuclear program and other efforts.

“This, my friends, is a president who knows how to keep us safe and strong,” she continued. “Compare that to Donald Trump. Can you imagine him sitting in the Oval Office the next time America faces a crisis? The world hangs on every word our president says, and Donald Trump is simply unqualified and temperamentally unfit to be our president and commander in chief.”

Mr. Trump, meanwhile, spent most of the day attacking the “rigged” system that he says let Mrs. Clinton off the hook for her use of a private email account. He also took shots at the fact that she traveled on Air Force One to the Charlotte rally.

“Taxpayers are paying a fortune for the use of Air Force One on the campaign trail by President Obama and Crooked Hillary. A total disgrace!” he tweeted.

The president has taken tough shots at Mr. Trump over the past several months, and while he didn’t mention the billionaire by name Tuesday, he hinted that voters face a very clear choice, especially if their main concern is the growth of the U.S. economy.

“If your concern is working people, then this is not a choice,” Mr. Obama said. “I don’t care whether you’re white, black, Hispanic, Native American, polka dot, male, female, I don’t care. If what you care about is who is going to fight for ordinary folks who are fighting for a better life for themselves and their children, then I don’t know how you vote for the guy who’s against a minimum wage, against unions, against making sure that everybody gets a fair shot, against legislation for equal pay, against sick leave and family leave and against all the things working families care about.”

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