STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
In his Democratic convention speech over the summer, President Obama told supporters, quote, "we're going to carry Hillary to victory this fall." Yesterday, Obama started in carrying. As Hillary Clinton took some days off to rest with pneumonia, the president campaigned for her in Philadelphia.
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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It is good to be back on the campaign trail.
INSKEEP: NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro was listening to that and much more. He's in our studios. Domenico, good morning.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: How big a deal is it - the president is campaigning for Hillary Clinton?
MONTANARO: It's a pretty big deal. I mean, as far back as we could find, at least 100 years, you haven't seen a president campaign strongly for the person who hopes to replace him. You know, either they're unpopular like George W. Bush was, kept at arm's distance like Al Gore did with Bill Clinton, or they're older like Ronald Reagan and only campaigned in sort of a perfunctory way for...
INSKEEP: ...I'm just thinking more than 100 years ago, the presidents didn't even campaign for themselves. So I'm assuming...
MONTANARO: ...So it may have never happened. Yeah, right.
INSKEEP: Yeah, it's amazing.
MONTANARO: It's just that, you know, news articles going back that far don't exactly help you out, or books. But, you know, the thing is President Obama's very popular. I mean, for - he's over 50 percent in the polls. He - his - the economy's doing well. He touted some of those things yesterday. He ticked through his accomplishments. Think about wages yesterday and the news that came out with that. And you even had a guy in the crowd say, yeah, what about $2 gas? And he said, thanks, Obama in a, you know - been sort of a refrain for conservatives. And Obama played into that and said, yeah, thanks, Obama (laughter).
MONTANARO: So saying that for himself. But something seems to be lost in translation here for Hillary Clinton. She needs that Obama coalition that helped him win more - win 51 percent of the vote for the first time since Eisenhower. And something is missing. I mean, within state polls Hillary Clinton is lagging behind where some of these key coalition groups, like Latinos and young people in Nevada, for example - she's not where he had been. And so now more than ever she needs Barack Obama.
INSKEEP: And Donald Trump has been throwing some of Hillary Clinton's words back at her. On Friday evening, she described about half of Trump supporters as being in a basket of deplorables, as she put it, people with racist and other kinds of views that she found deplorable. He's been repeating those words back at her. Is it working?
MONTANARO: Well, I mean, I think that this is something he cut an ad off of, and you know that he is looking to capitalize off of it. But Hillary Clinton - there's a potential backlash from this also because Hillary Clinton you saw walk back just one word - half. She said she only said that half of his supporters. She shouldn't have used that 'cause it was grossly generalistic. But then brought up David Duke, the former KKK leader who is running for the Senate in Louisiana who is backing Donald Trump's candidacy. And that has led to Donald Trump's supporters being asked about that.
INSKEEP: Isn't he deplorable, essentially, is what Hillary Clinton is saying. Aren't others deplorable? Mike Pence, the vice presidential choice for the Republicans, was in Washington yesterday. He was asked on CNN whether he does find David Duke deplorable. Let's listen to some of that.
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MIKE PENCE: I'm not really sure why the media keeps dropping David Duke's name. Donald Trump has denounced David Duke repeatedly. We don't want his support and we don't want the support of people who think...
WOLF BLITZER: ...Will you call him a deplorable? You would call him -
PENCE: No, I don't - I'm not in the name-calling business, Wolf. You know me better than that.
INSKEEP: And that becomes the headline - Mike Pence doesn't call David Duke deplorable. That's how these things work.
MONTANARO: It became the headline. It irritated some Republicans on Capitol Hill who wanted Mike Pence to make a stronger statement about that. You had Mike Pence then go to Capitol Hill and feel compelled to say that David Duke was a bad man, but that Hillary Clinton was lambasting, he said, millions of Americans.
INSKEEP: You know, I'm just reminded here, Domenico Montanaro, this is an example of how it is that you make political news. You make a controversial statement or a statement that gets people talking, a statement that people may disagree with and argue about and debate. It's a thing that Donald Trump has proven brilliant at and that Hillary Clinton has very rarely done. Here she's done it.
MONTANARO: Yeah, well - and, you know, she's tried to stay out of the news because all of that negative publicity that Donald Trump was getting was benefiting her. She had ironically now just started to open up a bit to the press, and then she lands in this controversy with her controversial remarks. But we'll see how it winds up playing out.
INSKEEP: Domenico, thanks as always.
MONTANARO: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro this morning. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.