President Barack Obama campaigned for fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton Tuesday evening, slamming Republican Donald Trump as “unfit to lead this country.”
Speaking to a capacity crowd at an outdoor amphitheater, he addressed Trump’s lewd comments about women from a leaked 2005 audio tape.
“You don’t have to be a husband or father to hear what we heard a few days ago and say ‘that’s not right,’” Obama said. “You just have to be a decent human being.”
Obama says there’s a stark contrast between Trump and the Republican presidential candidates he faced in 2008 and 2012, John McCain and Mitt Romney.
“I never thought that if they were in the Oval Office, America would spin out of control,” he said. “I just thought they represented a different political party and a different philosophy. That is not the case with the current Republican nominee.”
Obama blamed the Republican Party for creating the political environment that allowed Trump to secure the GOP nomination.
“If you’ve been only about obstruction, if in order to score political points you tell your voter base crazy stuff – like I wasn’t born here, or that I’m a Muslim,” he said. “You repeat it over and over again, and so your only agenda is negative. ... Over time you produce a nominee who is all about obstruction and insults and makes up his own facts.”
The president also took aim at North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr, who said he’s forgiven Trump for his lewd comments. He called on the crowd to support Burr’s Democratic opponent, Deborah Ross, who he noted is “certainly not going to keep standing with Donald Trump.”
“I too believe in forgiveness and redemption, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to elect the person president,” Obama said. “You can’t repeatedly denounce what’s said by someone, but say ‘I’m still going to endorse him to be the most powerful person on the planet.’”
Obama spent more of his speech criticizing Trump than he did praising Clinton. He said the former secretary of state and senator is the most qualified person to run for president in history.
“Nobody fully understands the demands of this job until you’ve sat behind this desk,” he said. “But nobody’s been closer to those decisions than Hillary. I saw her in the Situation Room where she argued for Bin Laden mission. She understands that the decisions you make in this job mean life or death.”
Obama’s appearance highlights North Carolina’s role as a key swing state for the Clinton campaign. The latest RealClearPolitics polling average has Clinton leading Republican Donald Trump by 2.6 percentage points here.
Trump’s campaign is also focusing on North Carolina. He’s planning a Friday rally at the same Greensboro venue – White Oak Amphitheatre – as the Obama event, as well as a rally Friday night in Charlotte.
Both vice presidential candidates will be in the state Wednesday – Republican Mike Pence at the North Raleigh Hilton and Democrat Tim Kaine at Davidson College near Charlotte.
More than 9,000 Clinton supporters attended the Obama event, and many of them had to watch from an overflow facility.
Ashley Koonce is a 26-year-old former English teacher who said she’s the great-great-granddaughter of slaves, and it means a lot to her to see an African-American president. She said she’s excited about the possibility of the first female president.
“It means anything is possible,” she said. “When I was in kindergarten, they told us that we could become president, but we didn’t really believe them. But now, it can really happen. It just really means that anything can happen.”
N.C. A&T State University senior Nhandi Johnson, 21, said she’d previously supported Sen. Bernie Sanders but plans to vote for Clinton because of her dislike of Trump.
“I’m going to vote for Hillary Clinton because I can’t let the other guy win,” she said.
Johnson says she’s concerned that Clinton is a politician who might not put her words into action. She hoped Obama would persuade her otherwise.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us,” she said of the Obama event. “I never really got to see the president in real life, so it’s one of those opportunities where you just don’t pass it up. I want to hear what he has to say about Hillary Clinton to make me feel better about voting for her in the upcoming elections.”
While most of the crowd loudly cheered Obama, his speech was interrupted three times by protesters who were escorted out of the event.
The first came as two women walked to the front row and flashed t-shirts that called former President Bill Clinton a rapist.
Obama quipped that “this is the good thing about politics in America. It takes all kinds. Folks will just do all kinds of stuff.”
Another disturbance involved a man who stood up, turned to face the audience and ripped a blue Hillary Clinton campaign sign in half.
As the audience booed, Obama reminded them to vote, not boo.
Before the rally in Greensboro, Obama visited N.C. A&T State University to participate in a student forum about the My Brother’s Keeper initiative and the role of historically black colleges and universities.
ESPN’s “The Undefeated” hosted the town hall meeting, “A Conversation with the President: Sports, Race & Achievement,” which was scheduled to air at 10 p.m. Tuesday night.
My Brother’s Keeper launched in 2014 to address opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and to connect young people to strong mentorship networks.