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Obama’s case for Hillary Clinton is really a case for Barack Obama

President Obama appeared in North Carolina on Wednesday to stump for Hillary Clinton. And to explain the stakes in the election, he asked his audience to remember how the world looked eight years ago.

“You may not remember exactly where we were as a country when I visited Raleigh in the final days of the 2008 campaign,” Obama said. “We were living through two long wars. We were in the early days of the worst economic crisis in 80 years. The economy was teetering on the edge of a great depression.”

But under his leadership, Obama argued, America “turned the page” and enacting policies that have benefited millions. And to preserve that legacy, he argued, American voters needed to choose Hillary Clinton as his successor.

Obama rattled off the major accomplishments of his presidency: “Last year, incomes rose faster than any time since at least 1968.” Poverty fell. The economy gained 15 million jobs, and 20 million people gained health insurance.

“We took out Osama bin Laden, made sure that in all 50 states people have the freedom to marry who they love. We did that,” he said.

Obama described Hillary Clinton as the “only candidate in this race who has devoted her entire life to lifting up that better America.”

However, he warned, “All the progress that we’ve made over the last eight years, all the progress we hope to make over the next eight years — all of that goes out the window if we don’t win this election.”

Obama sees the election as a referendum on his presidency

It’s unusual for a sitting two-term president to stump so aggressively for his successor. In the fall of 2008, for example, George W. Bush was viewed unfavorably by most Americans, so John McCain’s campaign didn’t welcome him on the campaign trail. Al Gore kept the popular president at arm’s length during the 2000 campaign, while Ronald Reagan wasn’t enthusiastic about the candidacy of his vice president, George H.W. Bush, in 1988.

But things are different this year. Obama is more popular than Hillary Clinton, the economy is doing fairly well, and the two have a strong rapport. So Clinton is campaigning on the continuation of Obama’s policies, and she’s happy to have him out campaigning for her. And Obama is happy to do it, because he sees the election, in part, as a referendum on his presidency.