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Obama, Comey will put spring in Hillary's step

Hillary Clinton acknowledges applause as she takes the stage to speak at the National Education Association’s 95th Representative Assembly (RA) in Washington, D.C., July 5, 2016.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters
Hillary Clinton acknowledges applause as she takes the stage to speak at the National Education Association’s 95th Representative Assembly (RA) in Washington, D.C., July 5, 2016.

Hillary Clinton will roll out her most powerful surrogate Tuesday afternoon when she campaigns in North Carolina with President Barack Obama.

It will be the first joint campaign appearance for the pair and it will come with all the trappings of the highest office in the land. Clinton will travel to North Carolina aboard Air Force One with the president and the pair will deliver remarks around 3:15 p.m. EDT at the Charlotte Convention Center.

The North Carolina stop comes the same day that FBI Director James Comey announced that the agency will not recommend that the Justice Department file any charges against Clinton for her use of a private email server while secretary of state, a move that will enrage many Republicans but eliminate a huge cloud hanging over the Clinton campaign. Comey ripped Clinton's "careless" treatment of "highly classified" information but said no reasonable prosecutor would bring charges.

Comey's sharp language will provide fodder for Republicans but his announcement will still put a spring Clinton's step as she joins Obama on stage Tuesday.

The joint appearance reflects one of the more remarkable political dynamics of the 2016 campaign. While both Clinton and her Republican opponent Donald Trump suffer terrible approval ratings, Obama is actually rising in popularity and could prove a very strong asset to the Democratic campaign.

Gallup now has Obama's job approval rating at 51 percent up from 45 percent when the year began. Trump has a 31 percent favorability rating while Clinton is at 41 percent in Gallup polling. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Obama has been rising in Americans' estimation since the two likely party nominees became clear.

Not since Bill Clinton in 2000 has an outgoing incumbent president been this popular. And Al Gore took heavy criticism that year for not using Clinton more in a race which he eventually lost to George W. Bush when the Supreme Court ended the recount in Florida.

Bush by contrast was nearly invisible in the 2008 campaign when his approval ratings were mired in the 30s after the second Iraq war. Bush did not even attend John McCain's nominating convention, though he did appear via satellite.

The situation is very different this year. The choice of state also reflects the current Clinton campaign thinking about the 2016 state of play. Initially, Clinton and Obama were to appear together for the first time during the campaign in Green Bay, Wisconsin, an event that got scrapped after the Orlando, Florida, massacre.

Since then, Clinton has risen in the polls and her campaign believes they can expand the map to include states like North Carolina that Obama won in 2008 but narrowly lost to Mitt Romney in 2012.

North Carolina is among a handful of states with increasingly diverse populations that Clinton is hoping to take from Trump in 2016. And Obama remains wildly popular with African-American and other minority voters that Clinton will need to bring out in large numbers to win the Tar Heel State.

Clinton seems intent on not repeating Gore's mistake of 2000 with Obama expected to play a big role at the convention and hit the campaign trail often, especially in the closing days in October.

Obama, who has had a sometimes tense relationship with Clinton since their bruising 2008 primary battle, clearly wants a Democrat to succeed him and protect legacy accomplishments including health care and financial reform. And he has a special distaste for Trump who spent years questioning Obama's citizenship and the legitimacy of his presidency.

Trump for his part will try and counterprogram Obama with an event in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Tuesday night. And he took to Twitter to question the use of taxpayer funds to fly Clinton and Obama to North Carolina. "Taxpayers are paying a fortune for the use of Air Force One on the campaign trail by President Obama and Crooked Hillary. A total disgrace!," the presumptive GOP nominee tweeted.

One problem with Trump's complaint: The White House traditionally splits the cost of campaign-related travel with candidates sharing Air Force One.

"As in other administrations, we follow all rules and regulations to ensure that the DNC or other relevant political committee pays what is required for the president to travel to political events," the White House said in a statement on Tuesday.

Trump's complaints also immediately raised questions about taxpayer-funded secret service and other protection for the presumptive GOP nominee during his recent business trip to Scotland to visit some of his golf courses. It's not clear Trump will get any mileage out of his complaints about the use of Air Force One. And the dust-up comes after a long holiday weekend that Trump spent defending a now-deleted Tweet that used what looked like a Jewish Star of David on top of a pile of money to denigrate Clinton.

Clinton's unabashed embrace of Obama does not come without some risks. The Democratic standard-bearer spent much of the Democratic primary tacking left to fend off a challenge from Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont including by revoking her support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal she once backed as the "gold standard" while serving as Obama's secretary of state. Reporters will undoubtedly continue to look for daylight between Clinton and the president.

But that is a relatively small price to pay for a candidate who — surprising many in the Beltway pundit world — can now rely on a popular outgoing president to help her win the White House.

—Ben White is Politico's chief economic correspondent and a CNBC contributor. He also authors the daily tip sheet Politico Morning Money [politico.com/morningmoney]. Follow him on Twitter @morningmoneyben.