Democratic Senate candidate Katie McGinty was there. Democratic Rep. Robert A. Brady was there. A pneumonia-stricken Hillary Clinton was there in spirit, her campaign slogan affixed where the presidential seal typically hangs.
Standing on a podium in Philadelphia featuring a blue “Stronger Together” sign, President Barack Obama offered a confident, relaxed and energetic grin as he told the friendly audience, “It is good to be back on the campaign trail.” The crowd roared its admiration for a president with approval ratings holding steady at above 50 percent, making him perhaps the best weapon Democratic candidates have.
The departing commander in chief is expected to become his party’s campaigner in chief this fall. In many ways, his first solo appearance on Clinton’s behalf felt like a tuneup, with Obama honing lines he’s used in recent months and trying out a few new ones.
And with Election Day just 55 days away, he made clear that his closing argument will feature not just platitudes for Clinton and harsh critiques of Republican nominee Donald Trump, but also an impassioned defense of his own record.
Obama used the appearance to tick off a list of policies enacted during his seven-plus years in the Oval Office.
He spoke of his signature health care law, legalizing gay marriage, what he called “the largest one-year drop in poverty since 1968” (3.5 million people) and the U.S. military operation that killed Osama bin Laden. And when someone shouted about lower gas prices than when he took office, the president quipped, “Thanks, Obama.”
The presence of McGinty and Brady, and the Clinton campaign’s scheduling of the event, show that all three candidates are eager to embrace the outgoing Democratic president and his record.
McGinty’s appearance — and Obama’s pleas to the Democratic crowd to get out to the polls for her — suggests she needs him most. The former Clinton administration environmental aide is leading GOP incumbent Sen. Patrick J. Toomey by less than a percentage point, according to the most recent RealClearPolitics average of several prominent polls.
The president even assured the audience that, if elected, McGinty would “do a great job” as a senator.
Obama took umbrage with Trump’s attempts to sell himself as a champion of working men and women, questioning the Republican standard-bearer's decision to not release his tax returns, and suggesting that his business dealings left “people feeling like they got cheated.”
“Really,” Obama said, “this is the guy you want to be championing working people?
“So, yes, if you oppose raising the minimum wage, you should vote for Trump,” the president said. “You should also vote for Pat Toomey.”
He then attempted to link McGinty’s opponent to the controversial GOP nominee: “A Trump-Toomey economy will be right up your alley.”
Obama ticked off a list of Democratic priorities: a higher minimum wage, “better benefits,” a revamped tax code that his party says will help the middle class rather than big corporations, among other items. If voters favor those kinds of policies, the president said, “then you should be voting for Hillary Clinton and Katie McGinty and Robert Brady.”
Toomey campaign spokesman Ted Kwong said that despite the senator's "strong" opposition to initiatives like the president's health care law and the Iran nuclear deal, he worked with Obama "on gun safety and some job creation measures."
"That’s the difference between a senator who thinks for himself, and the partisan extremist rubber stamp that Katie McGinty would be,” Kwong said.
Obama again cast the presidential race as one that will “determine the direction of this country for a long time,” and indicated that’s a big reason why he intends to “work as hard as I can this fall to elect Hillary Clinton."
He seemed to defend Clinton in the wake of criticisms about her instincts for secrecy and questions about her health, saying that as secretary of state, she “tirelessly” visited more countries than any of her predecessors.
The president is among a list of surrogates hitting the trail for Clinton as the post-Labor Day sprint to Nov. 8 heats up. His wife, Michelle, as well as Chelsea Clinton, actor Don Cheadle and others are expected to fan out across the country on her behalf in the coming days and weeks.
Obama again declared that there has never been a better-qualified candidate for the country’s highest office than Clinton, but he urged his party’s faithful to avoid taking the election for granted. And he told them a Clinton presidency would mean little unless they vote for Democrats up and down the ballot.
Attacking Trump, after months of not even mentioning his name, Obama said, "[Ronald] Reagan saw America as a shining light on a hill,” Obama said. “Trump sees it as a divided crime scene.”