US President Barack Obama made his 2016 solo debut in support of Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, hitting out at “unfair” criticism of the pneumonia-stricken Democratic presidential nominee.
After an extremely rough few days for Clinton, Obama used a fiery appearance before a crowd of 6,000 in Philadelphia to try to turn the tables on Donald Trump.
Obama insisted that Clinton had “been subjected to more scrutiny and... more unfair criticism than anybody out here,” while accusing the media of giving her Republican opponent a pass.
“Our standards for what’s normal have changed,” Obama said.
“Donald Trump says stuff everyday that used to be considered as disqualifying for being president. And yet because he says it over and over and over again the press just gives up.”
Clinton has just suffered perhaps the worst week of her 15-month quest to become America’s first female president.
On Friday, she sparked a firestorm when she called half of Trump’s supporters “deplorables.”
The 68-year-old was then sidelined from the campaign trail by a bout of pneumonia that has raised broader questions about her health.
She was forced to leave a 9/11 memorial event at the Pentagon on Sunday and was seen stumbling limp-legged into a secret service vehicle.
Despite leading in the polls, she remains deeply disliked by a swath of the electorate.
Obama was appearing in a city that will be pivotal in deciding the presidential race in Pennsylvania -- a virtual must-win state for Trump on November 8.
Nick-named “Pennsyltucky” for its conservative hinterland, the state is often described as being “Philadelphia in the east, Pittsburgh in the west and Alabama in the middle.”
The race there could come down to whether the Obama coalition -- young, black and Hispanic voters -- turn out to vote.
This is a high-stakes election for the 44th president, who could see much of his legacy, from climate deals to health care, eroded by a Republican-run White House.
“It is good to be back on the campaign trail” Obama told the crowd.
“This not just me going through the motions, I really, really, really want to elect Hillary Clinton.”
Obama also alleged that Donald Trump sees Russian President Vladimir Putin as his role model saying this makes Republican presidential candidate not fit for the White House.
“You know the pollsters call you up and say do you support the guy who, if you do not support him, he might throw you in jail, you say yes I love that guy. But think about the fact that is Donald Trump’s role model, I mean I have to do business with Putin, I have to do business with Russia but that is part of foreign policy,” Obama said.
“But I do not go around saying that is my role model. Can you imagine Ronald Reagan idolising somebody like that? He saw America as a shining city on a hill; Donald Trump calls it a divided crime scene,” Obama said.
Clinton is set to return to the fray later this week after some rest.
In the meantime, her husband Bill takes over for her in California, attending a fundraiser in Los Angeles while his wife rests at their home in Chappaqua, New York per her doctor’s orders.
He also will campaign for her Wednesday in Las Vegas.
Clinton’s stumble -- captured on amateur video -- gave Trump, 70, a new opening to question the former secretary of state’s fitness for the nation’s highest office as the race intensifies.
“While my opponent slanders you as deplorable and irredeemable, I call you hardworking American patriots who love your country and want a better future for all of our people,” Trump said in Iowa.
Trump’s running mate Mike Pence, the Indiana governor and a former congressman, met with House Republicans on Capitol Hill on Tuesday and said he and the nominee were “grateful” for the support from GOP lawmakers.
But he also turned to Clinton’s Friday remark that “half” of Trump’s supporters were in a so-called “basket of deplorables” because they were racist, misogynistic and xenophobic.
“This was a catastrophic insult to the American people,” Pence told reporters as he again demanded Clinton “retract those offensive statements and apologise.”
Clinton has expressed regret for saying “half” but also said she would not back down from calling out “racist rhetoric” on the campaign trail.
Pence also rejected accusations that Trump’s campaign was courting white supremacists including former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who has endorsed Trump.
“Donald Trump and I have denounced David Duke repeatedly,” Pence said. “We have said that we do not want his support, and we do not want the support of people who think like him.”
The brash billionaire’s campaign has courted controversy from the start, and sporadic clashes have erupted at his rallies between supporters and anti-Trump protesters.
An altercation erupted Monday night at a Trump rally in Asheville, North Carolina, where video shows a Trump supporter, his fists raised, yelling at and pushing a protester before slapping his face.
(With inputs from PTI)