Friendship? Political calculation? Deals? It adds up to a Democratic Convention on July 5 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The rally was initially scheduled for June 15 in Wisconsin but it was delayed following the terrorist attack in Orlando. And for the first time since the launch of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, Barack Obama will be by her side to fully support her bid.
A Long Relationship
The relationship between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama has never been easy. According to “Blood Feud,” a controversial book published in January 2015 by Edward Klein (a veteran journalist at the New York Times), there has always been latent rancor and tension between the Obamas and the Clintons. Their relationship is marked by hypocrisy, in particular because of the very brutal 2008 presidential primaries during which Obama, then a simple local Illinois politician, successfully challenged Hillary Clinton, the wife of a powerful U.S. president, by building his loyal base from the Democratic Party in the process.
And there was another tense episode. After his first term as president, Obama ran for re-election in 2012. But the situation was difficult for him. The country’s economy had not yet really recovered after the economic crisis of 2008, and Obama’s popularity ratings were very low. So much so that Hillary Clinton hesitated to endorse him in the primaries. According to Edward Klein, if Obama wanted to be re-elected in 2012, he had no choice but to promise, in exchange for the support of Bill Clinton (whose popularity reached 70 percent), his support for Hillary Clinton’s bid for president in the 2016 election. But that did not prevent Obama from taking actions that were unfavorable to Hillary Clinton.
For Thomas Snegaroff, an expert on U.S. affairs and a political science professor, the relationship between Obama and Hillary Clinton is about pragmatic considerations; always leaving space to form an alliance within the rivalry. In spite of very different political cultures and a generational shift, Hillary Clinton very quickly endorsed the candidate Obama for president in 2008 after her defeat in the primaries. As for 2012, he analyzes, “Bill Clinton’s endorsement of Barack Obama’s candidacy, through denouncing the Republican Mitt Romney’s economic plan, could have also played an important role in the re-election of Barack Obama in 2012.”
Political rivalry, arrangements and gestures of acknowledgement — such is the cocktail that nourishes the relationship between Obama and Hillary Clinton. If Obama chooses to support Hillary Clinton today, it’s certainly not because his hands are bound by the promises he may have made to Clinton; the motives are much more rational.
Let us point to the facts. In 2008, Obama won the Democratic primary race against Hillary Clinton, then as president he granted her the highly prized post of secretary of state. In 2012, Obama was re-elected president without any Democratic opposition and, in part, thanks to the support of the very popular Bill Clinton.
With regard to the presidential election of 2016, the president waited until June 9, 2016 to officially declare his support for Hillary Clinton in her race for the White House. This late support can be explained by his decision to wait until he was certain that Hillary Clinton had prevailed in the primary race against her rival Bernie Sanders.
According to Jacques Chevalier, an expert researcher on U.S. affairs, “It’s not traditional for the outgoing president to support a candidate in the early stages in a presidential race… And Barack Obama could not support Bernie Sanders anyway because of the dividing aspect of this ‘outsider’ personality within the Democratic party.”
On a more positive note, Obama had good reasons to support Hillary Clinton. “Without a doubt, he had no reason to avoid it. He knows about her expertise and her experience, he knows the weight her husband has within the Democratic Party, he knows very well that she can raise the necessary funds for a long campaign and an increasingly costly campaign… Perhaps he is also not insensitive to the fact that after having elected a black president, the Democratic Party should also be the first to elect a woman president?” Chevalier said.
Rally the Hesitant
The choice of North Carolina for organizing the convention is not without pain. After the Republicans lost to Obama in 2008, North Carolina had a big turnout in 2012, but Republican candidate Mitt Romney won by a narrow margin. In this swing state, Obama will try to rally votes for Hillary Clinton and to present her as the obvious choice against the danger that Donald Trump represents.
He counts on that with his renewed popularity. He has a 56 percent favorable opinion rating currently, a level that a president who has served two consecutive terms could never have hoped for. He has an especially important social base (young people, African-Americans, Latinos) and strong popularity among the Democratic electorate (with a more than 70 percent favorable opinion rating).