The Closer: Obama Enters Campaign as Democrats Cling to Leads

Timing is all about motivating 'Obama coalition' to put Clinton in White House

President Barack Obama, shown here campaigning with Hillary Clinton in North Carolina, said “we don’t operate on innuendo and we don’t operate on incomplete information and we don’t operate on leaks.” (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images file photo)
President Barack Obama, shown here campaigning with Hillary Clinton in North Carolina, said “we don’t operate on innuendo and we don’t operate on incomplete information and we don’t operate on leaks.” (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images file photo)
Posted October 6, 2016 at 5:00am

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is clinging to a slim lead and the party’s Senate candidates are fighting to grab control of the chamber. Enter President Barack Obama, poised to serve the role of his party’s campaign closer.

The president spent much of August on vacation and traveled to Asia in September. But Obama has an opportunity to nail down wins for Clinton and the party’s Senate candidates.

Aides say he will be on the trail at least twice a week until voters go to the polls on Nov. 8. The timing of his increased presence on the trail is a calculation that deploying Obama so late could help motivate voters that helped him win two terms.

Play ball

His entrance to the campaign trail, delayed a few days by Hurricane Matthew slamming into Florida, puts Obama in a role similar to a closing pitcher in baseball — and strategists say it could have ramifications down the ballot, too.

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An average of prominent polls compiled by RealClearPolitics give Clinton a 3.8 percentage point lead (43.9 percent to 40.1 percent) over Trump when third-party candidates are included. She is up in many swing states, even showing recent gains.

What’s more, the latest Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call rating has Democrats poised to gain between three and six seats. The party would need to net four seats should Clinton win, with Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, her running mate, holding the tie-breaking vote as president of the Senate.

“Hillary Clinton is ahead as we go into the ninth inning, and it’s time to bring in the big guy, Barack Obama,” said Brad Bannon, a Democratic strategist.

“The closer in the ninth-inning comparison is very appropriate,” he added. “Obama’s approval ratings have ticked up as the economy has improved. He can take his message that we need Hillary to win to build on those economic gains anywhere in the country.”

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Some political experts have said Clinton cannot win without a solid showing at the polls from the so-called “Obama coalition” of minorities and young voters. “If you look at how blacks, and Latinos, and millennials feel about the president, you see they love the guy,” Bannon noted.

Getting voters out

Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist and former aide to Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, said “this looks like a turnout election.” Obama will be charged with “protecting what amounts to a one-run lead,” he added.

“Democrats will be using their best asset as close to Election Day as possible,” Manley said of Obama.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Wednesday said “the president views himself as the clean-up hitter” who swings “the biggest bat in the lineup” rather than the closing pitcher.

“He’s the guy with the high approval ratings,” Earnest said. “He’s the guy with the enormous influence among young people and African-Americans and women who are likely to play an important role in the outcome of this race.”

White House aides have signaled the president, who always has been an energetic campaigner, intends to throw fast balls when he hits the trail next week — and for the duration of the campaign. They often use words like “forceful” when previewing his message about Clinton and Democratic candidates.

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Questions linger about whether Obama has done enough for Clinton, or if Democrats could repeat a mistake made in 2000, when President Bill Clinton stayed off the stump for Vice President Al Gore and the party’s other candidates. White House aides answer those questions by pointing to Obama’s two rallies so far for Clinton, as well as his other public pro-Clinton remarks.

They also note that Obama regularly headlines Democratic fundraisers. He held several in September, will participate in Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee events in Chicago on Friday and another is scheduled Sunday there for Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth, who locked in a close battle with incumbent Republican Sen. Mark Kirk.

Expect an aggressive Obama as he hits the trail one last time.

“When the game is this important, you’re not just going to walk up there and keep the bat on your shoulder,” Earnest said. “That would be true regardless of the score.”

Nathan L. Gonzales contributed to this report.Contact Bennett at Follow him on Twitter @BennettJohnT.