PHILADELPHIA — President Obama will take the stage at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday night with an opportunity that’s rarely been afforded to two-term presidents: help elect his successor.
Here’s what to watch for in the president’s fourth and final convention speech as an elected official:
Can he make the case for Clinton?
Obama has two major tasks before him: touting his presidential legacy and making the case for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 Clinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Attorney charged in Durham investigation pleads not guilty MORE to succeed him.
Both goals are intrinsically linked. Obama plans to argue that the policies he’s spent the last eight years enacting will only stay in place if the White House remains in Democratic hands.
The risk is that Obama ends up talking too much about himself and not enough about his would-be successor.
One former senior Obama aide predicted the president’s speech will be 25 percent legacy, 25 percent party unity and 50 percent Clinton.
“This has all become now about her,” the former aide said.
Boosting Clinton’s image
Clinton’s biggest obstacle to winning the White House are her low approval ratings.
Many voters don’t like her or don’t trust her.
While former President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonVirginia governor's race enters new phase as early voting begins Business coalition aims to provide jobs to Afghan refugees Biden nominates ex-State Department official as Export-Import Bank leader MORE painted a personal portrait of his wife Tuesday night that sought to soften her image, Obama aides say Obama will stand as a character witness for Clinton.
In his speech, which has been in the works for several weeks, the president will recall her service as secretary of State as a prime example of why should be trusted and is ready to serve.
It’s an effort to address Clinton’s major weaknesses. A CNN poll released on the convention’s first day showed 68 percent of registered voters do not see her as honest and trustworthy.
Taking it to Trump
The other core part of Obama’s message is that electing Republican nominee Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump takes shot at new GOP candidate in Ohio over Cleveland nickname GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default MORE in November will flush his accomplishments down the toilet.
“He's totally competitive,” said the former Obama aide. “It’s not a good thing for him and his legacy if Trump is elected. ... I think he'll be soaring. I don't think he'll be hot.”
Going after Trump is nothing new for Obama, who has repeatedly attacked the billionaire businessman at home and abroad.
But Wednesday’s night speech will amplify those arguments to a prime-time television audience that's expected to number in the tens of millions.
Obama will also have new ammunition.
In a press conference on Wednesday, Trump said he hoped the Russian government had hacked Clinton’s emails, a statement that to some sounded like an endorsement of Kremlin espionage.
If Obama is still working on his speech, there could be some lines about the Trump comments, which took attention away from a conflict between Obama and Clinton.
Clinton is opposed to Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, even though she backed it as a member of his team. Obama would still like to get the TPP through Congress, but that's unlikely because both Clinton and Trump oppose it.
Appeal to Obama coalition
Much of the Philadelphia convention has been geared toward appealing to voters who helped elect Obama to the White House twice: blacks, young people and suburban women.
Clinton desperately needs to excite these voters if she is to win in November, when victory will likely be determined by who shows up at the polls.
The president is expected to play a major role in that effort by touching on themes such as criminal-justice reform, LGBT rights and climate change during his address.
Measuring up to Michelle
Obama is competitive, and that’s a good thing for Hillary Clinton.
First lady Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaWe must mount an all-country response to help our Afghan allies Obamas, Bushes and Clintons joining new effort to help Afghan refugees Bidens, former presidents mark 9/11 anniversary MORE wowed the audience on Monday with a stirring speech that framed the election as a choice between a positive role model for children and a bully who’s unfit for office. She also spoke in emotional terms about being the first black family to live in the White House and the historic nature of Clinton as the possible first female president.
Now, the pressure is on Obama to match his wife’s performance.
“You know what? I'm not gonna hit that bar,” President Obama told NBC. “So let me concede top speechmaking already to my wife, but I couldn't have been prouder of her.”
But those who know Obama well say it’s in his nature to be competitive, and they expect him to deliver. “This is his jam,” said the ex-aide. “He’s the speechwriter.”
That’s good news for Clinton, who needs Obama to deliver big to give her a convention boost.
Polls suggest she’s trailing Trump after the last week's GOP convention. She needs to turn that around and leave Philadelphia with momentum. A big piece of that is a stirring presidential speech on Wednesday night.
Jonathan Easley contributed.