Clinton's ace in the hole: Obama

Clinton's ace in the hole: Obama
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Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFox News poll: Biden ahead of Trump in Nevada, Pennsylvania and Ohio Trump, Biden court Black business owners in final election sprint The power of incumbency: How Trump is using the Oval Office to win reelection MORE will have a not-so-secret weapon in her quest for the White House: President Obama. 

Obama’s approval ratings have been marching upward since the start of the year.  

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He retains immense popularity with the Democratic base, including vital groups such as young people, with whom Clinton has struggled. And experts also say that there is no one better positioned to unify the party behind the former secretary of State as her long and sometimes bitter struggle with primary rival Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump faces backlash after not committing to peaceful transition of power Bernie Sanders: 'This is an election between Donald Trump and democracy' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump stokes fears over November election outcome MORE (I-Vt.) draws to a close.

If Obama could run for a third-term, “he’d be reelected in a walk,” said New York-based Democratic strategist Jonathan Rosen. “He can play a huge role in bringing the Democratic base and independents, together to unite behind her candidacy.”

That could be particularly important given evidence from the primary season that suggests Clinton has failed to thrill some parts of the Obama coalition, even while she has drawn strong support from other blocs. She has struggled mightily among younger voters, for example, even while beating Sanders by huge margins among African-American Democrats. 

The political relationship between Obama and Clinton is a long and knotty one. Distrust still festers among some of the aides who worked for each candidate during their titanic 2008 primary struggle.  

On the other hand, Hillary Clinton rallied support for Obama in the general election that year, even coming to the Democratic National Convention floor to move a motion for the then-Illinois senator to become the nominee. In 2012, former President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonAnxious Democrats amp up pressure for vote on COVID-19 aid Barr's Russia investigator has put some focus on Clinton Foundation: report Epstein podcast host says he affiliated with elites from 'both sides of the aisle' MORE — whose role in the 2008 primary was contentious — gave a famously effective speech lauding Obama’s economic record. 

Before Hillary Clinton began her quest for the presidency this time around, she seemed to distance herself from the man whom she served as secretary of State. Back in August 2014, she critiqued a foreign-policy view synonymous with Obama saying, “Great nations need organizing principles and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”  

That attitude carried through into the early months of the campaign. Last fall, according to NPR, she told voters in Davenport, Iowa, “I am not running for my husband’s third term of President Obama’s third term. I am running for my first term.” 

Clinton’s rhetoric shifted as the challenge from Sanders became more serious, however. On healthcare, she cast herself as the protector of Obama’s signature domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act. A Clinton ad on gun control featured the candidate saying, of the president, “I’m with him.” 

Part of Clinton’s pivot was clearly aimed at stopping the Sanders insurgency in its tracks. But Clinton’s political proximity to Obama could pay dividends in the general election, too. 

Gallup’s daily tracking poll at the end of last week showed 52 percent of adults approving of Obama’s job performance and 44 percent disapproving. At the beginning of the year, Obama won approval from just 45 percent of adults in the equivalent poll, while 51 percent disapproved. 

Some independent experts believe that the feverish tone of the primary season in both parties has fueled Obama’s climb. 

“As the conflicts got more into the gutter during the primary season, President Obama looks much better by comparison,” said Grant Reeher, a professor of political science at Syracuse University. “I think that he personally has been helped by what has happened in both primaries — but particularly the Republican one — which reminded people why they liked the guy eight years ago.” 

Experts like Reeher noted that traditionally it has been difficult for a candidate to win the White House after his or her party has held the presidency for the preceding eight years. Only once since 1948 has someone pulled off that feat. President George H.W. Bush succeeded his fellow Republican President Reagan by winning the 1988 election. 

But 2016 could be exceptional. The polarizing nature of the presumptive Republican nominee could leave some voters seeking a “safe haven” with a known quantity such as Clinton, experts say. 

That dynamic could be enough to counteract Clinton’s own lowly favorability numbers, as well as the traditional reluctance to give a party three successive White House terms. 

“It is obviously a challenge to win the White House for three straight elections and as a candidate, as a front-runner, everyone takes shots at you. But that challenge can be overcome when you have a popular sitting president,” said Democratic strategist Evan Stavisky.  

“She is running against someone who is outside the political norm,” he added. “Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSteele Dossier sub-source was subject of FBI counterintelligence probe Pelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' Trump 'no longer angry' at Romney because of Supreme Court stance MORE is not just an outsider; he actually frightens a lot of people.”  

Trump and his supporters, of course, would argue precisely the opposite: that a restive nation will not want to install in the White House a woman who has already been at the center of the national stage for a quarter century — especially if she seems inclined to largely continue the policies of the two-term incumbent.

Reeher noted, however, that while Obama could be very effective in uniting Democrats and firing up the base, his effectiveness in winning unaligned or Republican-leaning voters over to Clinton’s was in greater doubt.

“I don’t think he is in the position of a Ronald Reagan at this point,” he said. “The Republicans really have set themselves in opposition to him in a way that mainstream Democrats did not, at least to the same extent, with Reagan. So in terms of him being a unifier beyond Democrats, I’m not so sure.”