CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Barack Obama beat Hillary Clinton eight years ago with the help of his charm and vitality — and on Tuesday he demonstrated how he plans to harness those gifts this time to help his former opponent get elected.
"I have run my last campaign," Obama said at his first election stop of the year with Clinton. "And I couldn’t be prouder of the things we have done together. But I’m ready to pass the baton. And I know Hillary Clinton is going to take it."
The former rivals now must depend on each other, with Clinton needing Obama to help her unite the Democratic Party and defeat Donald Trump, and Obama needing Clinton to preserve his legacy.
Neither made any reference to the FBI investigation into Clinton’s email server, nor to director James Comey’s announcement earlier in the day that he was not recommending criminal prosecution.
It’s been at least a century since a sitting president has campaigned like this for a favored successor, and the White House has been held by the same party for three consecutive terms only once since the fall of the Third Reich.
Clinton seemed to have history on her mind as well, nodding at the possibility of following the first black president with the first woman president.
“Nobody who looked like Barack Obama or me would have been included” in the writing of the Declaration of Independence, she said, commenting on the recent Fourth of July Holiday.
Clinton is lining up an envious stable of surrogates, from Elizabeth Warren, whom she campaigned with last month, to her husband, former president Bill Clinton. But Obama may prove to be the most valuable of all, combining the passion of Warren with the gravitas of Clinton, but none of his baggage.
Obama noted he's had “a front-row seat” to see Clinton in action as his Secretary of State, and said that no one really understands what it’s like to be president until they’ve done the job -- “I know Hillary can do the job.”
But he easily upstaged Clinton, reminding everyone why he beat her in 2008.
The former first lady, who came to elected politics late in life, has acknowledged in the past that she’s not a “natural politician” like Obama or her husband. It showed when juxtaposed back-to-back with Obama.
Reading from a teleprompter, Clinton didn't stray far from her stump speech and maintained a delivery that seemed almost oblivious to the thousands of people in the room around her.
Obama, on the other hand, copped to enjoying himself too much and stayed in constant dialog with an enthralled crowd. He wandered from the script, spoke irreverently and revived favorite lines from his 2008 campaign.
“Are you fired up? Are you ready to go?” Obama said in full campaign mode; jacket off, sleeves rolled up. “I’m fired up. Hillary’s got me fired up.”
He even seemed makes excuses for why Clinton didn’t beat him the first time.
“We’re a young country so we like new things. I benefited from that ‘cause, lets face it, when I came on the scene in ‘08, everybody said, 'Well he’s new,'” Obama said candidly. “And that means sometimes we take somebody who’s been in the trenches and fought the good fight and been steady, for granted.”
“That means that sometimes Hillary doesn’t get the credit she deserves,” he continued, repurposing a line Clinton often uses about Obama.
He delivered on what Clinton’s campaign needed him to do: leverage his unique experience to vouch for Clinton. “There has never been any man or woman more qualified for this office than Hillary Clinton. Ever.”
Obama never mentioned Trump by name, but repeatedly chided the presumptive GOP nominee as unfit for the job. “This is not a reality show, this is reality,” Obama joked. “When a crisis hits, you can’t just walk off the set. You can’t fire the scriptwriter.”
Clinton didn't quite make it two minutes into her remarks before taking a dig at Donald Trump. “[Obama’s] never forgetting where he came from. And Donald, if you’re out there tweeting, it’s Hawaii!” she said.
Obama is almost universally popular in the Democrat Party, and several attendees here said they came to see the president as much or more than to see Clinton.
Throughout his remarks, several people could he heard shouting, “Obama for Supreme Court!”
“It’s better than Christmas,” said Aniedi Abasiekong.
Jane Henriquez, a student at the University of North Carolina, said Obama could “help balance out Clinton’s strict, harsh side,” which she said would be beneficial to winning over recalcitrant Bernie Sanders supporters on campus.
Obama never made a direct appeal to Sanders supporters, but both he and Clinton touted the sense of unity they created after their bitter primary eight years ago.
“Some of you might remember that he and I competed against each other as hard as we could back in 2008," Clinton said. "But when it was over, I was proud to endorse him and campaign for him.”