PHILADELPHIA—In his first solo appearance on the campaign trail Tuesday, President Barack Obama accused Republican nominee Donald Trump of adopting authoritarian Russian President Vladimir Putin as his “role model.”
Mr. Trump “is out there praising a guy, saying he’s a strong leader, because he invades smaller countries, jails his opponents, controls the press and drives his economy into a long recession,” Mr. Obama said, referring to Mr. Putin.
1“I have to do business with Putin, I have to do business with Russia. That’s part of foreign policy, but I don’t go around saying that’s my role model,” the president said.
Stumping for Hillary Clinton before more than 6,000 supporters near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Mr. Obama spoke for nearly 40 minutes. He alternated between attacking Mr. Trump’s temperament and fitness for office and making the case for Mrs. Clinton as a standard-bearer who could continue his legacy and policies.
Mr. Trump’s campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The New York businessman has called Mr. Putin a strong leader and said positive things about how he has managed his country, but Mr. Trump hasn’t declared him a “role model.”
The president’s appearance in a battleground state came as Mrs. Clinton has been sidelined after being diagnosed with pneumonia, though she hadn’t been scheduled to take part in the event. She was resting at home for the second day, while former President Bill Clinton was slated to take her place at a Nevada event Wednesday.
An aide said Mrs. Clinton had spent the day reading briefing material and making calls, and that she had watched Mr. Obama’s speech on television. She plans to resume campaigning on Thursday, he said.
Mr. Obama is widely seen as Mrs. Clinton’s most valuable surrogate, as he can reassure voters about her character after years of working with her as his secretary of state and enjoys a high favorability rating among voters.
The stakes for both Democrats are high: Mrs. Clinton needs his help in reactivating millennials who helped fuel his two successful campaigns, while her victory would protect such key Obama initiatives as the Affordable Care Act.
“We take for granted, sometimes, what is steady and true. And Hillary Clinton is steady and she is true,” Mr. Obama said. “The young people who are here,” he added, “you maybe don’t remember all the work that she has had to do and all the things that she has had to overcome, and all the good that has happened because of her effects.”
Mr. Obama’s appearance was one of a series he is expected to do on behalf of Mrs. Clinton this fall. Speaking Tuesday, the president said he was “really, really, really” enthusiastic about helping elect Mrs. Clinton and urged voters in Pennsylvania to mobilize behind her candidacy.
Pennsylvania has emerged as a hotbed of campaign activity in recent weeks. Republicans haven’t won the state at the presidential level since 1988, but Mr. Trump hopes to put it in play by appealing to white working class voters who backed Democratic candidates in the past but have been trending Republican in more recent years.
Mr. Trump was scheduled to appear at an event outside of Philadelphia just hours after the president’s speech. Mrs. Clinton campaigned in Philadelphia and Scranton, Pa., last month, and Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren have been making regular appearances in the state.
Polls show Mrs. Clinton maintains sizable advantages among suburban voters and nonwhites. But she will need to motivate them to show up to the polls to win the state. In a Quinnipiac poll released last week, Mrs. Clinton led Mr. Trump 48% to 43% among Pennsylvania voters. But that is a significant drop from an August Quinnipiac survey, when she had a 10-point lead in the state.
Mr. Obama has seen his approval ratings soar in recent months, with most recent polls showing voters have positive feelings about the outgoing president. The most recent Gallup survey showed that 55% of voters nationwide approved of the job Mr. Obama was doing, while 45% disapproved. That is up from two years ago, when Mr. Obama’s approval rating fell into the low 40s in Gallup’s polling.
Mr. Obama also has a much higher favorability rating among key groups than Mrs. Clinton. According to a YouGov/Economist survey, 45% of white voters said they have a positive impression of Mr. Obama while only 31% said the same about Mrs. Clinton.
Recent voter registration data released by a Democratic group warns that new black voter registrations are down compared with the same point in 2012. Mr. Obama has near universal approval from African-Americans and is expected to play a key role in helping turn out the coalition of young voters, white liberals and minorities who helped elect him twice.
“I need you to work as hard for Hillary as you did for me,” Mr. Obama said Tuesday.