After months on the sidelines, President Barack Obama joined Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail at a rally on Tuesday, urging voters to pick his former secretary of state to succeed him in the White House.
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"I'm here today because I believe in Hillary Clinton, and I want you to help elect her to be the next president of the United States of America," Obama said at a rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, in what was likely to be the first of many trips on behalf of his 2008 primary rival.
Obama was returning the favor after Clinton backed him in 2008. This year, he waited while she battled U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders for the party nod before endorsing Clinton last month once she became the presumptive Democratic nominee.
Clinton's trip with Obama came the same day that FBI Director James Comey said the agency will not recommend that Clinton face charges over her use of a personal email server while she was secretary of state.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama did not get advance notice of Comey's announcement and said he would not discuss the FBI investigation with Clinton.
Clinton's campaign welcomed the end of a probe that has cast a cloud over her campaign, but Republicans seized on Comey's criticism of what he termed Clinton's "extremely careless" handling of emails. Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, who was also due to campaign in North Carolina on Tuesday, said of the FBI recommendation, "As usual, bad judgment."
JOINT APPEARANCE DELAYED
A joint campaign appearance of Obama and Clinton that was initially planned for soon after Clinton clinched the Democratic nomination was postponed after the mass shooting on June 12 at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
On Tuesday, Obama told the crowd in North Carolina that he saw during the 2008 primary race that Clinton was smart and prepared, and he said she had been involved in difficult decisions as secretary of state.
"There has never been any man or woman more qualified for this office than Hillary Clinton," Obama said.
Clinton hopes to reclaim North Carolina for Democrats in the Nov. 8 election. Obama won the state in the 2008 general election but lost it narrowly in 2012.
Obama's first campaign appearance with the former first lady will close a circle on a relationship that started cordially when the two were colleagues in the U.S. Senate, grew tense when they were rivals in the 2008 race, and became close when Clinton served in Obama's cabinet during his first term.
Clinton and her family have played a role in Obama's elections. Clinton and Obama appeared together in Unity, New Hampshire, following their divisive primary fight in 2008, and Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, gave a well-received speech at the 2012 Democratic convention.
Obama has focused on what he touts as Clinton's strength of character, in hopes of shoring up support among voters who find her untrustworthy, a weakness Trump has sought to exploit.
Clinton needs Obama to woo young and left-leaning voters who backed Sanders and who made up part of the president's voting coalition in 2008 and 2012. Clinton has also campaigned with high-profile liberal U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, and she will appear later this week with Vice President Joe Biden.
Clinton and Obama traveled to North Carolina on the presidential plane Air Force One, which Trump said was a burden on taxpayers. A Clinton spokesman said the campaign would cover its portion of the travel costs.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Aadditional reporting by Emily Stephenson and Ayesha Rascoe in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler)