PHILADELPHIA (AP) — After a bruising weekend for Democrats, President Barack Obama on Tuesday mounted a vigorous defense of Hillary Clinton, her campaign’s transparency and her fitness for the presidency, and blasted Republicans as fanning “anger and hate.”
Obama painted a stark picture of the stakes in the face-off between Clinton and Republican rival Donald Trump and tried to persuade Democrats in make-or-break Pennsylvania he’s all-in behind his former secretary of state and his onetime rival.
“Hillary Clinton is steady and she is true,” Obama told a group of cheering Democrats at an outdoor rally. “I need you to work as hard for Hillary as you did for me.”
Obama aggressively stepped into a void left by Clinton, who is taking time off from campaigning after being diagnosed with pneumonia.
Without mentioning Clinton’s health, Obama dove into the political fallout of Sunday’s episode in New York. To an audience of roughly 6,000 supporters in downtown Philadelphia, Obama argued that Clinton has been more transparent in providing health and financial records than her rival, as well as releasing her past tax returns while Trump refuses to release his. Obama also noted Trump has not disclosed details of his charitable giving, and claimed the Clinton Foundation has “saved countless lives around the world.”
Even more, he described the former New York senator who ran hard against him for the Democratic nomination in 2008 as the most qualified presidential candidate, and Trump as “not fit in any way shape and form to represent this country and be its commander in chief.”
Obama is seeking to generate momentum for Clinton in a race that has become uncomfortably close for many Democratic supporters. The latest poll by Quinnipiac University found her with a 5 percentage-point edge over Trump in Pennsylvania.
Trump was scheduled to campaign later Tuesday in a Philadelphia suburb. Pennsylvania, which was carried by a Democratic nominee in the past six elections, is viewed as essential for Trump’s chances of achieving the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency.
Obama’s campaign appearance at an outdoor plaza in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art was his third for Clinton, including his speech at the Democratic National Convention, also in Philadelphia. The president, who remains broadly popular among the Democratic base, is viewed as a key asset in pushing die-hard Democrats to the polls, especially in battleground state urban centers such as Philadelphia.
At times during his 30-minute speech, the crowd broke into cheers of “Thank you! Thank you!” When it came to Trump, Obama both mocked him and tried appealing directly to those considering backing the businessman.
Trump has fashioned himself as a working-class hero, Obama said, after “70 years on this earth showing no concern for working people.” He accused Trump of being unprepared, unserious and “not a facts guy.” He seized on Trump’s praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom Obama cast as authoritarian strongman who controls the media and crushes dissent.
“Can you imagine Ronald Reagan idolizing somebody like that?” Obama said, invoking the Republican icon.
The president didn’t unleash on Trump alone. Obama reserved part of his speech to “vent” about the media, arguing news organizations have treated Clinton unfairly and applied what he described as a false equivalence when covering the campaigns’ troubles.
“You don’t grade the presidency on a curve,” he said. “This is serious business.”
The president’s day job has kept him from being a campaign fixture. Obama recently returned from 10 days abroad in Asia and will attend a United Nations meeting next week, leaving him just six weeks of full-throttle campaigning for his former secretary of state.
Trump’s campaign met Obama with a statement suggesting he was shirking his duties.
“Shouldn’t you be at work?” it read. “President Obama would rather campaign for Hillary Clinton than solve major problems facing the country.”
At the rally, Obama made both the case for Clinton and for his own presidency. He claimed successes on diplomacy, health care, winding down the war in Afghanistan and reviving economy, which showed new strength Tuesday in a Census report documenting a jump in household incomes in 2015.
“Republicans don’t like to hear good news right now but it’s important to understand this is a big deal,” Obama said of the new report, later joking. “Thanks, Obama.”
The candidate Obama hopes will succeed him left a 9/11 ceremony after about 90 minutes Sunday and struggled to stay on her feet while she was helped into a van. Her campaign said she had “overheated,” but later revealed that she had been diagnosed Friday with pneumonia. The episode played into Trump’s efforts in recent weeks to raise doubts about Clinton’s stamina.
Clinton’s campaign was already on the defensive after she used the term “basket of deplorables” to describe half of Trump’s supporters.
And while the president didn’t mention the comment specifically, he branded Trump’s campaign as “a dark vision where we turn away from each other.”
“This isn’t Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party,” Obama said, scoffing at Trump’s effort to win over dissatisfied working-class voters. “He’s betting if he scares enough people, he might just scare up enough votes to win this election,” he said.
After the speech, Obama was due to address donors at a fundraiser for the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. About 25 attendees, who contributed $33,400 each, are expected to attend. The event hosts gave $100,000. He then was flying to New York City for a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraiser.