Editorial: Hillary taps Obama love

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 6, 2016

It’s been several years since any candidates have wanted a lame duck president by their side during a political campaign. Not so for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Love him or hate him, President Barack Obama is enjoying some of his highest approval ratings these days. As she campaigns to succeed him, Clinton is tapping the enthusiasm and affection many voters still have for the president, as they demonstrated Tuesday in Charlotte.

To the conservative Republicans who dominate Rowan County, Obama may always be anathema. But the people who twice elected Obama to the White House admire the president as strongly as Republicans dislike him. He could motivate lukewarm Democrats to turn out for Clinton in November.

Serving eight years in the White House tends to grind a person down, not to mention turn hair gray. Democrat Bill Clinton humiliated himself and the country with the Monica Lewinsky affair. Amazingly, his approval rating was 56 percent by the time he left office, the same as George H.W. Bush’s outgoing rating and topped in the modern era only by Dwight Eisenhower’s 59 percent and Ronald Reagan’s 63 percent.

Still, Vice President Al Gore chose to campaign for president in 2000 without Bill Clinton’s help for the most part. Gore needed the glow of the Clinton economic recovery but could not risk the stain of his scandal.

Republican George W. Bush won that election by the slimmest of margins. Bush rallied the nation after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but the war in Iraq was an albatross around his neck by 2008, and he sat out Sen. John McCain’s ill-fated campaign to be the next Republican president.

Fast forward to 2016. To voters contemplating Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Obama is looking better. His approval rating his risen above 50 percent. Despite battles with Congress and setbacks in the Supreme Court, the president seems to have bounce in his step these days. Compared to Trump, Obama is a statesman. Compared to Hillary, he’s a charmer.

As Trump addressed a crowd in Raleigh Tuesday night, he had reason to feel upbeat. Clinton’s lead over him had narrowed to 5 percentage points, according to a new USA Today/Suffolk University Poll. He gets a warm reception everywhere he goes, and the immigration issue is the gift that keeps on giving.

Unless he can resurrect Ronald Reagan, though, Trump is unlikely to find an ally who can inspire supporters as effectively as Barack Obama does.