WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Eight years after a hard-fought primary battle, it is the wife of Hillary Clinton's onetime opponent who may be the Democratic nominee's most effective campaign surrogate.
For the first time, Clinton was joined on the campaign trail Thursday by first lady Michelle Obama, who appears to be all but clearing her schedule to ensure her husband is succeeded by the former secretary of State.
They walked out together to the middle of the stage where they hugged each other-- a far cry from their sometimes icy relationship after the 2008 election.
The rally in Winston-Salem, N.C., with the first lady, described by the Clinton campaign as their “not-so-secret weapon," was meant to encourage early voting in the Tar Heel State.
Clinton spoke first as Michelle Obama sat on stage next to her.
"Seriously, is there anyone more inspiring than Michelle Obama?" Clinton asked the crowd.
“Michelle reminds us to work hard, stay true to our values, be good to one another and never, ever stop fighting for what we believe in," Clinton told supporters Thursday.
Clinton praised the First Lady for showing every child in America that there are no limits on what they can become.
Said Clinton, "As out first African American First Lady, she's faced pressures I never did.
When Michelle Obama spoke, she said this election was about making a choice for the future.
"We want a President who takes this job seriously," she said.
Never mentioning Donald Trump by name, the First Lady said Clinton would be a role model for young girls and would respect women, saying she was the candidate who had the most experience, even more than the man currently in the White House.
"Yes, more than Barrack Obama and more than Bill-- and yes, she just happens to be a woman."
With newer battlegrounds like Virginia and Colorado now tilting strongly in Clinton’s favor, North Carolina has become a more reliable harbinger of the election outcome. It’s a state that Barack Obama won in 2008 but lost four years later to Republican Mitt Romney.
While Clinton is ahead in most polls, the race is still close in some critical battlegrounds, including Florida and Ohio.
Clinton told reporters aboard her plane Wednesday night that she felt "good" about the state of the race but added: “This election isn’t over.”
Having set aside the hard feelings of the 2008 primary between Clinton and her husband, Michelle Obama now sees the former secretary of State as the vessel for her husband’s legacy.
For the Obamas, a Clinton victory would also amount to personal vindication. Her opponent, Donald Trump, for years fanned debunked rumors that Barack Obama wasn’t even an American citizen. What's more, many African Americans view his candidacy as a repudiation of the progress on racial relations the Obamas had hoped to achieve.
Throughout her eight years in the White House, Michelle Obama has largely avoided the political fray as she’s maintained a portfolio of public interest causes, such as nutrition and child welfare, that is characteristic of previous first ladies.
That, combined with her repeated insistence that she has no political ambitions of her own, has given her a less partisan cast as well as a unique ability to connect with voters on the stump. Polls show Michelle Obama’s approval ratings are higher than her husband’s.
Now, she is now using that standing to help Clinton, and her star power makes her perhaps the Democratic nominee's most formidable surrogate in rallying women, African Americans and young voters.
It was her July speech at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia that established her as perhaps the party's leading 2016 spokesperson, and Clinton often repeats the first lady's refrain when responding to Trump's criticisms: “When they go low, we go high.”
Bill Clinton is expected to campaign on Sunday in Charlotte, and Vice President Joe Biden is expected in North Carolina next week.
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