North Carolina’s status as a battleground state was cemented Tuesday by three high-profile visitors: President Barack Obama and the two major party candidates hoping to replace him.
The first event took place at the Charlotte Convention Center, where Sheryl Crow’s “Woman in the White House” was among the songs played to entertain the crowd early on.
Don’t you think it’s time
to put a woman in the White House
with a whole new attitude.
Kathleen Alexander wholeheartedly agrees.
“I definitely am excited to have a female president. I was born the year Bill Clinton got elected and I’m a fan of the Clintons, so that was really my main thing,” Alexander said.
Others, like 30-year-old Constance Dyson, were less effusive.
“I’m not a Trump supporter, I guess by default that makes me a Clinton supporter.”
Arms shot in the air, cell phones held high as it seemed everyone in the crowd tried to snap a picture as candidate Hillary Clinton and President Obama walked slowly to a podium placed in the middle of the crowd. Banners bearing Clinton’s “Stronger Together” slogan hung all around.
This was, after all, Clinton’s rally. The only sign this was the first time Obama was joining her on stage was the presidential seal affixed to the lectern and the man who sat on a stool behind her, at times rising to lead the crowd to chant “Hillary! Hillary!”
Clinton was quick to point out what she sees as the biggest accomplishments of the Obama administration.
“We’ve added 14 million private sector jobs. The auto industry just had its best year ever. Twenty million people now have healthcare. Clean energy production has soared.”
And Clinton stressed her strong ties to President Obama, saying she was “honored to stand with him in the good times and the hard times...someone who has never forgotten where he came from.”
Clinton then added: “And Donald, if you’re out there tweeting, it’s Hawaii!” she said as the crowd roared.
From there, Clinton moved into the heart of her stump speech:
Creating middle class jobs, increasing the minimum wage, affordable college, equal pay for women, rewarding companies that share profits with their workers and keep jobs in the U.S.
And then there was her favorite attack line about her Republican presidential rival:
“The world hangs on every word our president says. And Donald Trump is simply unqualified and temperamentally unfit to be our President and Commander and Chief.”
When it was President Obama’s turn to speak, he explained to the crowd why he is with her.
“Let me tell you North Carolina, my faith in Hillary Clinton has always been rewarded. I have had a front row seat to her judgment and her toughness, and her commitment to diplomacy. And I witnessed it in the situation room, where she argued in favor of the mission to get Osama bin Laden.”
He added, that in his view, there simply has never been anyone, man or woman, more qualified to be president.
In other years that might have been all he needed to say to his fellow Democrats.
But 2016 is no ordinary election. There are strong anti-establishment movements in both major parties. President Obama said he gets that.
“You know we’re a young country, so we like new things. And I benefitted from that culture, lets face it. When I came on the scene in ’08 everybody said, 'Well, he’s new.' They don’t say that now because I’m not.”
Then President Obama urged the crowd to see Clinton’s experience as a benefit, not a liability.
“The fact is Hillary is steady. And Hillary is true. And she’s been in politics for the same reason I am, because we can improve other people’s lives by doing this work.”
But there were some key omissions in the remarks of both the president and the candidate. Neither Obama nor Clinton brought up gerrymandering or voter ID in North Carolina, both of which are before federal courts. And neither brought up House Bill 2 in any way.
In fact, with the exception of saying “Charlotte, North Carolina” and some fleeting references to basketball and barbecue, there was nothing North Carolina-specific about these speeches. It felt like the script for the first joint Obama-Clinton campaign event could have been delivered anywhere.
A few hours later in Raleigh, Trump told his fans Obama shouldn’t have wasted the time.
“We have a president who’s out campaigning for crooked Hillary Clinton and he should be home working on ISIS where the threat is getting worse and worse.”
Donald Trump also addressed something not talked about by Clinton and Obama in Charlotte: the FBI’s announcement earlier in the day that it would not seek criminal charges over Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.
“Today is the best evidence ever that we have seen that our system is absolutely, totally rigged. It’s rigged.”
Trump also went after what the first African-American president has done for African-Americans, saying Obama is “all talk and no action.”
“We need a president who’s not going to be divisive. We need a president that’s going to take care of the African-American community.”
And, Trump said, only he would help Hispanics get jobs. There was also, of course, chants about building walls on America’s southern border.
Throughout much of his speech, Trump stayed on message, attacking Clinton and Obama and tying the two Democrats to what he sees as failed policies on the economy, trade, and terrorism.
But then there was a classic Trump curveball, praise for former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
“Saddam Hussein was a bad guy right? He was a bad guy. Really bad guy. But you know what he did well? He killed terrorists. He did that so good. They didn’t read him the rights. They didn’t talk. They were a terrorist, it was over.”
Just another day in the 2016 presidential election.
Ana Lucia Murillo contributed to this story.