Clinton, Obama Issue Final Appeal in Philly
PHILADELPHIA — On the verge of making history as the first woman president, Hillary Clinton closed out her campaign Monday focused on a more daunting task than the one on which she embarked 18 months ago: healing a torn and tired out nation.
Clinton turned to the City of Brotherly Love, where she accepted the Democratic nomination, and to President Obama, whose legacy will also be judged by voters on Tuesday, to begin the process at the end of the most divisive election campaign in memory.
After months of deriding Donald Trump on the campaign trail, at times with apparent delight, Obama framed the final hours of the presidential race as more than a referendum on Clinton’s opponent.
“You don't just have to vote against someone; you have somebody extraordinary to vote for,” he told an estimated 33,000 people gathered on a crisp autumn night outside Independence Hall—the largest event of the election cycle. “We now have the chance to elect a 45th president who will build on our progress.”
The symbolic setting marked a passing of the political baton from one history-making Democrat to another. But if elected, Clinton would enter the White House under very different circumstances than Obama did.
Both she and Trump are the most unpopular candidates to ever seek the presidency, and if elected, either one would enter the highest office in the land with historically low approval ratings. Unlike Clinton, Trump has not committed to conceding the race if the vote tally goes against him, and continued talk of a rigged political system through the end of his campaign. Republican congressional candidates, for their part, have sold their campaigns as checks against a Clinton administration, and GOP committee chairs have already announced plans to investigate her.
“I have more to do to bring the country together,” she told reporters before boarding her campaign plane Monday morning for a final blitz through several key states, ending with a midnight rally in Raleigh, N.C.
In closing her campaign with events in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and the Tar Heel State, Clinton hinted at the longer goal. “Every issue you care about is at stake. And that is just the beginning,” she said in Philadelphia. “Because we have to bridge the divides in our country.”
She continued: “I regret deeply how angry the tone of the campaign became.” A member of the audience yelled out, “Not your fault!”
Yet some of her supporters, however enthused by a united Democratic Party, acknowledge the challenges for their nominee if she becomes president. “I think it’s going to be a gradual coming together. It’s not going to be an overnight success,” said Antin Galaj, a union glazier from Philadelphia who wore a “Hard Hat for Hillary.”
“I think it will be a tough road ahead, but I think she also has the temperament to do it,” said Rosemari Hicks, a human resources manager from Merchantville, N.J.
Clinton campaigned as a bridge-not-wall-builder, centered her message on the theme “Stronger Together” and spoke of her vision for governing in a “warm purple space.” But she has also at times stoked the politics of division. During a Democratic primary debate last year, she answered “Republicans” when asked which enemy she was most proud to have.
Current polling indicates a Clinton victory -- the RealClearPolitics four-way average shows her leading by 3.3 percentage points -- but the chances of Democrats taking over the Senate are evenly split. The fallout over the FBI’s extended probe of emails tied to Clinton’s private server emboldened GOP candidates and created some headwinds for their Democratic challengers.
In his own speech here Monday night, the president criticized Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Pat Toomey, who is hoping to fend off challenger Katie McGinty. “If you think endless gridlock will help your family, you should vote Republican,” Obama said. But if you believe America can do better than that … you need to vote for Democrats up and down the ticket.”
For her part, Clinton attempted to strike a more inclusive tone, but also attached herself firmly to Obama.
“I will be a president for all Americans -- Democrats, Republicans, Independents, not just the people who support me in this election, everyone, because I believe we all have a role to play in building a better, fairer, strong America, building on the progress that we have enjoyed under President Barack Obama over the last eight years,” she said.
She encouraged the crowd to “thank” the Obamas with their vote on Tuesday.
While there are risks to seeking a third term for the party holding the White House, Clinton calculated early on that Obama’s high approval rating and the popularity of first lady Michelle Obama would boost her candidacy, making up for flaws instead of creating liabilities. Indeed, the Obamas have become her most effective surrogates on the trail, energizing the diverse coalition they built over the past two presidential campaigns and often overshadowing former President Bill Clinton, who was tasked this cycle with luring white working-class Democrats back home.
After short remarks here, the 42nd president introduced Mrs. Obama as the “finest servant, supporter any candidate for president ever had.”
The event served as a farewell address of sorts for the Obamas. “I’m also emotional because in many ways speaking here tonight is perhaps the last and most important thing that I can do for my country as first lady,” Mrs. Obama said. “We believe that we have a duty to ensure that this country is handed over to a leader that we all can trust.”
Election Day, though, is about far more than nostalgia for her husband. It will serve as either a vote of confidence or opposition to his time in office. “All that progress goes down the drain if we don’t win,” Obama said in the college town of Ann Arbor, Mich., Monday afternoon.
“Whatever credibility I've earned after eight years as president, I am asking you to trust me on this one,” he said in Philadelphia. “I ask you to do for Hillary what you did for me. I ask you to carry her the same way you carried me. I ask you to make her better the same way you made me better.”
Alexis Simendinger contributed to this report.