01:53 - Source: CNN
Michelle Obama: Clinton ready to be President on Day 1

Story highlights

Inside a packed auditorium, Hillary Clinton rally attendees gushed over Michelle Obama

The surrogate for the Democratic nominee has not always had the rosiest relationship to Clinton

Winston Salem, North Carolina CNN —  

President Barack Obama has less than three months left in the White House, and some Democrats aren’t ready to say good bye – to Michelle Obama.

And Hillary Clinton knows it.

The two first ladies – one former, one current – campaigned together for the first time in North Carolina on Thursday, in a joint rally aimed at allowing Clinton to tap into the Obamas’ soaring popularity in the final homestretch of the election. The event drew one of Clinton’s biggest crowds yet, and again confirmed Michelle Obama’s emergence as one of Clinton’s most powerful surrogates eight years after Barack Obama defeated Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primaries.

The popular first lady delivered a resounding speech in Winston-Salem, saying Clinton has more experience than anyone else to assume the nation’s highest office – including her husband – adding the Democratic presidential nominee and her opponent, Donald Trump, have clashing visions for the country.

Without once mentioning the Republican presidential nominee’s name, Obama warned that Trump’s is a vision “grounded in hopelessness and despair.”

“This candidate calls on us to turn against each other, to build walls, to be afraid,” Obama said. “And then there’s Hillary’s vision for this country – a vision of a nation that is powerful and vibrant and strong, big enough to have a place for all of us. A nation where we each have something very special to contribute and where we are always stronger together.”

Inside the packed auditorium, attendees gushed over Obama, who made history in her own right eight years ago by becoming the country’s first African-American first lady. In recent months, Obama has taken on a more active role on the campaign trail. She delivered electrifying remarks at the Democratic National Convention over the summer, and earlier this month, she harshly condemned Trump’s recently unveiled lewd comments about women in an emotional speech.

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Smiti Kaul, a sophomore at Wake Forest University, once supported Bernie Sanders but said she was swayed to back Clinton in part because of surrogates like Obama.

Kaul, who is originally from India, said Obama resonates with her “as a woman of color.”

“She is a good messenger for Hillary Clinton because she represents a different group in America that Hillary Clinton isn’t able to represent and I think that is a big asset for Hillary Clinton,” Kaul told CNN.

Some even wondered whether politics may be in Obama’s future.

Dion Brinson Jr., an 18-year-old African-American student who attends Carver High School in Winston-Salem, said after “eight long years” in the White House, Obama might not want to go back. But if she did, Brinson added, he would enthusiastically support her.

“She has a big enough fan base and I think she has left her legacy in the White House and would be tough to beat,” Brinson said.

Legacy was indeed on Obama’s mind on Thursday. With less than three months left in her current role, Obama reflected on the “glare of the national spotlight” that she and her husband have had to weather during the President’s two terms in office.

“With every action we take, with every word we utter, we think about the millions of children who are watching us,” Obama said. “We want a president who takes this job seriously and has the temperament and maturity to do it well. Someone who is steady. Someone who can be trusted with the nuclear codes because we want to to to sleep at night knowing that our kids and our country are safe.”

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If Americans want a “unifying force” who “values and honors women,” Obama stressed: “Vote right now. Leave here and go vote!”

The Clinton campaign views North Carolina, a state that voted for Obama in 2008 and Republican Mitt Romney in 2012, as a must-win for Trump this year. Relying on African American and Hispanic turnout in metropolitan areas, Clinton’s campaign thinks Trump can’t win in November without winning the state.

Obama’s comments came after Clinton warned that the “dignity and respect for women and girls is also on the ballot in this election,” in what was a clear shot at Trump’s remarks about women.

Clinton delivered an introduction focused on an issue that Obama has been particularly outspoken about in the final months of the 2016 campaign. Clinton lauded Obama for what she said was an eloquent and powerful defense of women.

“Michelle reminds us to work hard, stay true to our values, be good to one another, and never, ever stop fighting for what we believe in,” Clinton said. “She has spent eight years as our first lady advocating for girls around the world to go to school.”

She added: “Seriously – is there anyone more inspiring than Michelle Obama?”

Clinton and Obama have not always had the rosiest relationship, and Republicans have tried to remind voters of their rocky past dating back to the 2008 primaries. Defeat Crooked Hillary PAC is currently airing an ad in Winston-Salem titled “Can’t Run Her House,” which shows Obama seemingly hitting Clinton for her husband’s extramarital affairs in 2008.

“One of the things, the important aspects of this race, is role modeling what good families should look like. In, and, my view, is that, if you can’t run your own house you certainly can’t run the White House,” Obama says in the ad. “Can’t do it.”

On Thursday, Obama made clear that any tension from the past was fully behind her.

“People wonder, yes, Hillary Clinton is my friend,” Obama said, later referring to Clinton as “my girl.”

During her eight years in the White House, Obama has focused on initiatives around children, women, veterans and members of the military. She launched her signature “Let’s Move!” campaign in 2010, aimed at tackling the country’s childhood obesity epidemic and teaching healthier eating habits.

She built a vegetable garden at the White House to demonstrate the importance of eating fresh produce.

Ann McLain, a 70-year-old retired nutritionist from the area who attended Thursday’s rally, told CNN that she hopes Obama will run for president in eight years.

“She should do it – I think she could win. Everybody loves her,” McLain said. “I love her initiative to get kids moving and about the public gardens – I’m a gardener, too.”

In her speech Thursday, Clinton promised to preserve the first lady’s White House garden as the next president: “I can promise you, if I win, I will take good care of it, Michelle.”