US Election 2016

Obama goes the extra mile to try to secure his legacy

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton - waving Image copyright Spencer Platt
Image caption Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton entered the campaign's home stretch together

On Air Force One. Obama worked with aides in a last-minute effort to get Clinton elected and secure his legacy. Here's what things were like inside the bubble.

On the flight to Ann Arbor, Michigan, a White House staffer, a woman with her hair pulled back in a ponytail, talked about what things were like on the last day of campaigning.

She said: "All of us are - like - electric."

And a bit worn out.

White House Spokesman Josh Earnest walked down the aisle. He was wearing a light-blue tie and had a five o'clock shadow (it was just after nine in the morning). He stood with his hands on his hips.

"President Obama is well aware of the stakes of this election," Earnest said. "His legacy is on the ballot."

Image copyright Scott Olson
Image caption Obama railed against Donald Trump, shown in Grand Rapids, Michigan

As Earnest spoke, the film Mad Max flickered on an in-flight screen next to him. On the screen, a giant fireball roared through the sky.

The president and his aides were headed for a rally in Ann Arbor, one of three events in as many states where he was speaking that day (altogether he addressed more than 50,000 people).

He was going the extra mile - literally - so Hillary Clinton would win. In this way, he figured, he would ensure that the work he's done as president would last beyond his time in office.

Securing a legacy means you ensure that the things that you did in office will remain - and that your successor will build on these accomplishments. If someone comes along who doesn't like what you did, they'll smash it to bits.

Image copyright Justin Sullivan
Image caption A Clinton spokesman said they welcomed Obama's "closing argument"

Obama wants to ensure that his legacy is big - and lasting.

That afternoon in Michigan, he wore a light-blue shirt - he'd taken off his jacket because of the heat - and stood on a stage with red, white and blue bunting.

He told the audience they had a chance to make history.

The last time that a two-term president was succeeded by someone from his party was decades ago. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan passed the mantle on to President George HW Bush, helping to solidify Republican policies for another generation.

Image caption Everett Reid said he hoped the Affordable Care Act would remain in place

If Obama follows in their footsteps - and gets another Democrat elected - he'll solidify his chances of "being a truly consequential president", said Aaron David Miller, author of The End of Greatness: Why America Can't Have and Doesn't Want Another Great President.

The president's programmes, encompassing everything from health care to environmental policy, are "works-in-progress", explained Miller. Obama needs to usher another Democrat into office in order to ensure the programmes remain intact.

At the rally, Obama spoke about the Affordable Care Act, and how 20m more people now have health care. He talked about his effort to fight climate change - and how Americans rely less on foreign oil than they did in the past.

He also wants to protect achievements such as the Paris Agreement to address climate change and the Iran nuclear deal.

"All that progress goes down the drain if we don't win tomorrow," he told the crowd. He put on hand on a podium and leaned into it.

"It's all out," explained Suzanne Nossel, who served as a deputy assistant secretary of state under Secretary Clinton.

"If she wins, this will look like the most brilliant Democratic strategy in history. If she loses, everything he's fought for will be lost."

The Clinton campaign staffers have - understandably - welcomed their effort. Clinton campaign Spokesman Brian Fallon said: "There's no one better to help make the closing argument than President Obama."

They also know that, as Charlton McIlwain, author of Race Appeal: How Candidates Invoke Race in US Political Campaigns, explained: "She needs help."

She may be a qualified candidate. But Obama will make sure people head for the polls.

Standing on stage in Ann Arbor, Obama talked about the Republican nominee, Donald Trump,. "If your closest advisors don't trust you to tweet," Obama said. "Then how can we trust him with the nuclear codes?"

"Get him!" shouted Everett Reid, a University of Michigan junior who's majoring in jazz studies. He wanted Obama to demolish Trump - and sounded as if he were at an iron-cage death match.

Image caption Mary Jo Desprez talked about Obama's legacy: "He doesn't want us to go back"

Reid had formed an ensemble, the Barack Obama Memorial Band, for the rally. He talked about the Affordable Care Act, saying some of his friends had gotten health care, adding: "So that's something that I'd love to see stay."

Mary Jo Desprez, a University of Michigan employee, also talked about his legacy. "We made inroads in creating access and equality for many people," she said. "He doesn't want us to go back."

"You see blacks and whites and everybody here," she said, waving her hand at the crowd. "Gays and straights - Muslims. It's awesome."

Later that day, Air Force One landed in New Hampshire. Obama bounded down the stairs and chatted with people on the tarmac. He slapped the hand of one man, an official with wavy hair, as if to say: We're gonna get this one. It's ours.

A White House aide, David Simas, the director of the White House's office of political strategy, stood near them on the tarmac. Carrying a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses, Simas fist-bumped a journalist and said it was a great day to campaign.

Finally the president headed for Philadelphia - the last rally. The city was lit up, and the air was chilly. "With Democrats in charge, American is stronger," he said. He introduced Clinton, saying her name loudly.

She stepped forward and waved. The president stood behind her, clapping his hands. Music blared: "This is my fight song."

He acted as though he'd already given her the job. That's certainly his wish. The voters, however, will decide whether he gets it.

Follow @Tara_Mckelvey on Twitter.

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