With Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump locked in a close race to win pivotal North Carolina, President Barack Obama on Friday told a crowd of thousands in Charlotte that they must vote to protect his legacy by ensuring another Democrat wins the White House.
Sleeves rolled up, Obama said at PNC Music Pavilion that North Carolinians have “four days to decide the future of this country that we love,” urging them to take advantage of the final day of early voting Saturday. He appealed to millennials, African-Americans and women – key constituencies Clinton is trying to turn out in the state.
“Everything we fought for,” said Obama, “all of that goes out the window if we don’t win this election.”
Obama, who had a rally earlier Friday in Fayetteville, said African-Americans who don’t cast a ballot will “give away our birthright, give away our power...because we couldn’t go across the street and spend 15 minutes” in the voting booth.
Obama’s Friday visit was the latest to North Carolina by presidential campaigns that have focused an all-out blitz on the state, as well as other important swing states such as Florida and Pennsylvania. Republican nominee Trump spoke in Concord and Selma, N.C., on Thursday, while Clinton held rallies in the Greenville area and in Raleigh.
Trump is set to return to North Carolina on Saturday with a Wilmington rally and Monday with a Raleigh gathering, while Chelsea Clinton, Jon Bon Jovi and other celebrities will campaign for Clinton over the weekend. Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, will campaign for Trump in Charlotte on Saturday.
In his Charlotte speech, Obama heavily criticized Trump and predicted a tight finish, especially in North Carolina.
“It shouldn’t be a close race, but it’s going to be a close race,” he said. “You can’t sit in the sidelines. You’ve got to vote.”
The president ticked off statistics about the growth of jobs, the number of people with health insurance and renewable energy under his administration, as well as the death of Osama bin Laden and the legalization of same-sex marriage.
“My name won’t be on the ballot. But everything we worked for is on the ballot,” said Obama.
The president also said gasoline hasn’t shot up in price as his opponents had predicted.
“It’s two bucks a gallon. Thanks, Obama,” he quipped.
Republicans slammed Obama in advance of his visit, tying it to the FBI’s investigation of Clinton’s emails.
“President Obama made his first campaign stop in North Carolina the same day FBI Director Comey made a clear indictment against Hillary Clinton’s judgment,” said Kara Carter, Republican National Committee spokeswoman, in a Friday morning statement. “Unfortunately for the Clinton campaign, if President Obama couldn’t inspire voters to back Hillary Clinton over the last several months, no visit in the final days will.”
Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat battling Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in a tight contest, urged the crowd in Charlotte to tell their acquaintances to vote. He also got in a dig at McCrory, whom he accused of putting “ideology before the best interest of our state” when it comes to issues such as House Bill 2, the state law that limits protections for LGBT residents.
The governor’s race isn’t the only one in North Carolina with major implications: Democrat Deborah Ross is also challenging Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican, in a hard-fought campaign that could determine which party controls the U.S. Senate.
Polls have shown a tight race in North Carolina with just days to go before the Nov. 8 election. The Real Clear Politics average of statewide polls on Friday showed Trump with a 1 percentage point edge over Clinton, 47.3 to 46.3 percent. Two of the polls in the average showed Clinton ahead, while two showed Trump ahead.
The polling average showed both candidates tied at 46.4 percent in North Carolina on Thursday, a further measure of how close the state is.
At times, Obama seemed exasperated with the close race.
“The fact that he’s gotten this far tells me the degree to which our politics have become like a bad reality TV show,” Obama said of Trump. “You’ve got somebody who wants to be elected president who calls women pigs, or slobs, or dogs, or grades them on a scale of one to 10.”
“You can’t tell the difference between Saturday Night Live and what’s actually happening on the news,” the president said. “The worst part, Charlotte, is we have begun to treat this as if it’s normal...Imagine if in 2008 I had said any of the things that this man said. Imagine what Republicans would have said.”
Friday’s visit by Obama was his second to North Carolina in three days. On Wednesday, Obama held a rally at UNC-Chapel Hill that drew 16,000, where he promoted early voting and urged young people to cast their ballots for Democrats.
At his Fayetteville rally earlier Friday, Obama silenced the crowd of 4,500 when they started to boo and chant “Hillary” at a protester with a Trump sign.
“Hey, listen up, hey, I told you to be focused, and you’re not focused right now,” Obama told the crowd. “Listen to what I’m saying. Hold up, hold up, hold up, hold up, hold up. Everybody sit down and be quiet for a second.”
Once Obama regained control, he told the audience the protester was there to support his preferred candidate and was not causing harm. He added that the man should be respected for his military service.
While the candidates and their surrogates barnstorm North Carolina, millions of voters are already casting ballots early. According to Catawba College political scientist Michael Bitzer, who writes about early voting in his blog, the number of absentee and in-person early ballots cast as of Friday are almost 13 percent ahead of the same day in 2012. So far, 2.6 million votes have already been cast in North Carolina, with 42 percent by Democrats, 32 percent by Republicans and 26 percent by unaffiliated voters.
The number of African Americans casting early votes in North Carolina is down 10 percent from the same point in the last presidential contest, however. That’s closing the gap from the 17 percent by which black votes were trailing their 2012 totals last week. But it’s still a worrisome point for Democrats, who relied on a large black turnout to win North Carolina in 2008.
UNC Charlotte student Shelby Lattimore, 18, was an early voter, casting her first-ever general election presidential ballot for Clinton. Lattimore’s pink T-shirt Friday read “Madame President (get used to it!) Hillary 2016.”
“I like her, especially her opponent being Trump,” said Lattimore, who is studying to be an elementary school teacher. “Honestly, it kind of disgusts me that a candidate for president can talk about women in that light and still get supporters.”
47.3 percentTrump support in North Carolina
46.3 percentClinton support in North Carolina
Obama has emphasized that his legacy is on the line in an attempt to get more black voters to the polls this week. On radio and TV shows this week, he’s made special appeals in a direct attempt to drum up enthusiasm. First lady Michelle Obama campaigned with Clinton in Winston-Salem last week as well.
Campaign official Marlon Marshall said on a conference call Friday that early voting numbers for African-Americans have increased since the number of polling places increased last week, closing the gap with 2012.
Marshall pointed to high turnout in Democratic strongholds in North Carolina, especially the major cities. Campaign manager Robby Mook said Clinton is counting on a “firewall” of early votes that will protect the campaign from Republican turnout on election day.
Late Friday, Republican campaign officials said they are confident their ground game will turn out voters in North Carolina on Election Day, and that they can overcome any deficit of votes from early ballots cast.