WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Democrat Hillary Clinton and first lady Michelle Obama headlined their first joint rally of the presidential election season on Thursday, drawing one of the Clinton campaign’s largest crowds to date.
Speaking to 11,000 cheering supporters crowded into the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum at Wake Forest University, Clinton and Obama cast the election as one that would shape the future of the nation’s children.
“As Michelle reminds us, this election is about our kids . . . their lives and their future,” said Clinton, who spoke first.
Obama, repeating a theme of her Democratic National Convention speech this summer, said the presidential election was “bigger” than a choice between two candidates: “It’s about who will shape our children.”
“We know the influence our president has on our children, how they turn on the TV and they see the most powerful role model in the world, someone who shows them how to treat others. . . . They’re taking it all in,” Obama said.
Obama said she and her husband, President Barack Obama, and Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, “try to be the type of people, the type of leaders, that your children deserve, whether you agree with our politics or not.”
The first lady, without naming Republican Donald Trump, described the real estate mogul’s vision for the country as “grounded in hopelessness and despair,” and derided his argument that the Nov. 8 election will be rigged.
“When you hear folks talk about . . . a global conspiracy and this election is rigged, they are trying to get you to stay home,” Obama told the crowd. “They are trying to take away your hope . . . just for the record, in this country . . . the voters decide this election . . . period. End of story.”
The rally came as state polls show Clinton leading Trump by a two percentage-point margin, according to the poll tracking website Real Clear Politics.
While presidential candidates are usually the final act at their own campaign rallies, Obama served as event’s headline speaker, underscoring her popularity and high approval ratings — higher than those Clinton received while her husband was in office.
An August Gallup Poll found 64 percent of Americans had a favorable opinion of Obama, compared with the 55 percent Clinton averaged over her eight years as first lady.
“Is there anybody more inspiring than Michelle Obama?” Clinton asked the crowd after ticking off a list of Obama’s accolades.
Kelly Dittmar, a scholar with the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, said part of Obama’s popularity stems from her inclination to avoid the political spotlight, focusing her efforts on noncontroversial issues such as fighting childhood obesity and supporting veterans.
Clinton as first lady often fought on the front lines of her husband’s political battles, and spearheaded major policy initiatives on his behalf, including a failed attempt to pass universal health care legislation in the early 1990s.
“She’s not a politician,” Dittmar said of Obama. “Right now, if you’re a politician, your favorability in general seems to be low. There’s a skepticism, a dislike, a general concern among voters that politicians are not doing their job. One thing that sets Michelle Obama apart is she hasn’t had to play the role of politician, or she hasn’t wanted to play the politician role. . . . She speaks with a sense of authenticity that has resonated with voters.”
Clinton’s aides have referred to Obama as a “secret weapon” and Dittmar said Obama has emerged as one of the “most effective” surrogates on Clinton’s team.