Obama offers closing message as political tensions rise in U.S.


COLLEGE PARK, Ga. — Former president Barack Obama kicked off his return to the campaign trail by taking on Georgia football icon and Republican Senate nominee Herschel Walker.

“Herschel Walker was a football player,” Obama told the crowd at the Gateway Center Arena, near Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. But he would have no more qualifications to be a senator in the United States than flying a plane or performing an operation, the former president was ripping, drawing laughter and cheers from over 7,000 people who waited hours to see.

“Georgia deserves better,” Obama said.

With midterm elections just over a week away, Obama, 61, has stepped into the spotlight on the political stage with rallies to drum up interest in marquee midterm races in battleground states.

A day after he was in Georgia with Senator Raphael G. Warnock, who is in a tight race with Walker, and Stacey Abrams, who is running with Gov. Brian Kemp, Obama led rallies in Michigan and Wisconsin.

The former president is seen as the Democratic Party’s main communicator to base voters, who is more popular than President Biden, who is not a sought-after representative in the top races amid a dismal approval rating. The president spent one of the busiest campaign weekends of the cycle at his home in Delaware, where he attended his granddaughter’s field hockey game and, separately, cast his ballot.

Democratic strategists say Obama is the only party leader who can draw large, grassroots-motivated crowds without angering the other side at the same time.

Obama took the stage on Saturday in Detroit, where he continued to use his signature deadpan humor, comparing Michigan Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon to a fictional plumber spewing conspiracy theories about “lizard people. “

And in Wisconsin, Obama called out some of the GOP TV ads that show the state Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who is Black, as someone who is “different.”

“Mandela, get ready to dig up that birth certificate,” Obama asked, a reference to the conspiracy theory pushed by former president Donald Trump that Obama was not actually born in the United States.

But he also insisted that democracy is on the ballot and offered a platform for his party to get more serious about solutions to the issues that are worrying voters, including abortion rights, inflation and crime.

Obama, who left office in 2017, is raising his profile at a critical time, with polls showing Democrats losing momentum in the midterms. And political tensions have risen significantly in the last few days with increased concern after a violent attack against Paul Pelosi by an attacker who was looking for his wife, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

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In Georgia, Obama walked on stage hours after the attack. “I want to take a moment to say a prayer for my friend, Mr. Paul Pelosi,” Obama said.

He also spoke about the attack in Michigan on Saturday. “One thing we can feel, we know, if our rhetoric is about each other he gets that average … that creates a dangerous climate,” Obama said.

But even as he talked about civility in Michigan, Obama was excited, prompting some in the crowd to chant “O-BA-MA.” The former president struggled for about two minutes to calm the crowd. “Wait, wait, wait, wait,” Obama said. “Keep up. Keep up. Keep up. Stay up.”

Later, Obama admitted that the political environment has become more difficult. On the campaign trail, he said, “it feels a little harder than it used to — not just because I’m older and grayer,” Obama said. “It feels like the very foundation of democracy is under threat. …Things are not going to be okay on their own.”

“Obama has the ability to speak at the same time to ground Dems that the party needs to mobilize the suburban swing voters that they need to occupy in these final days,” said David Axelrod, Obama’s chief White House strategist.

“Like Clinton, Obama is also great at telling a larger story about the country, the times and the choice,” Axelrod said, referring to former president Bill Clinton, who has been notably absent from the campaign trail, as his wife, a former president. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Republicans said it was a sign of weakness that a past president, rather than a potential leader, could be the future of the Democrats this year.

“Never look back in politics,” said Dan Eberhart, a major Republican donor. “It is a sign that you have a weak bench and no vision for the future. It is to bring in Obama to make the final argument for the Democrats to admit that the party is without leadership under Joe Biden. It’s not a strong movement.”

On the GOP side, Trump, who could seek the White House again, has drawn large crowds, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Obama’s message to voters hits on the same topics as the one coming from the current White House. It is delivered with the former president’s unique blend of human relatability and makes a point to acknowledge the challenges voters face when confronting difficult issues.

Abortion is “controversial” Obama said in Georgia on Friday, adding “I truly believe there are people of good conscience who may differ with me on this issue.”

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“Inflation is a real problem right now,” Obama said, although he suggests it’s a global problem stemming from the pandemic and snarled supply chains. In Michigan, he said: “Sometimes we don’t want to talk about certain issues.”

And violent crime “has gone up,” the former president admits, though he notes the trend extends across Democratic and Republican administrations and in red and blue states.

“Who voted against more resources for our police departments?” Obama asked. “Is it someone who wears a phonetic badge and says he’s in law enforcement?” he quipped, referring to the badge of honorary sheriff that Walker wore during a debate to show his tension with law enforcement.

Responding to Obama’s comments that the former professional football player is “famous” for not putting in the work to become a political leader, he told reporters: “I’m not a celebrity, I’m a warrior for God. “

Dixon dismissed Obama’s appearance in Michigan as a “last-minute fly-in” that would do little to “erase all the lies and broken promises” from Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who has a slim lead in the polls going into the final days. to her. reelection bid.

If there was a complaint from the Democrats, it was that Obama did not hit the track early enough.

“In my humble opinion, they should have done this about a month ago, because it would have created more momentum,” said Carol Lewandowski, a retired nurse, waiting for Obama to speak in Detroit.

Obama’s road rage is a change from 2010 — the first midterm of his presidency. Biden, his vice president, was in demand and traveled to areas where Obama himself was not desirable.

In Georgia, audience members brought chairs and waited hours before he spoke to get good seats, wearing 2008-era T-shirts bearing Obama’s likeness and swapping stories about coming to see his inaugural address in the cold.

“He’s proven again that he’s the leader of the party spiritually, mentally, I mean, it’s just the greatest speech delivery of our lives,” said Michael Tropp, 43, of Atlanta, after Obama speak. “They bring out the big guns, they bring out President Barack Obama when they need him the most.”

“Part of this is a function of being a former president as opposed to a sitting president, on the receiving end of the incoming people. [criticism] in the midterm elections,” Axelrod said.

And after leaving the stage in Georgia on Friday night, Obama FaceTimed Rep. Karen Bass, a Democrat who ran for mayor of Los Angeles. And after his speech in Michigan, he went to Wisconsin and stumped for the Democratic ticket there, where Barnes is in a tight race and the Gov. Tony Evers seeking reelection.

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On Tuesday, Obama is scheduled to go to Nevada, where Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto and Gov. Steve Sisolak, both Democrats, face challenging reelections. His team says more travel is planned. Obama, through a spokesman, declined a request to be interviewed for this story.

A big part of his message is to push Democrats to vote. Obama gave an interview on “Monday Night Football with Peyton and Eli,” called the “ManningCast,” which drove about 10,000 views to a website with voting information, according to data from Obama’s office. Obama had more than 10 million views on a particular video aimed at attracting young voters.

He sat down last week with a group of Tik Tok influencers who are expected to roll out Obama content in the coming days, and wrote emails on behalf of little-known Democratic committees including the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State and the Democratic Legislative Campaign. Committee.

Obama also appeared in a large number of Democratic campaign ads, including ones that aired in several state contests, including in Oregon, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Maryland. Obama’s team says more is coming.

Interestingly, some Republicans running in traditionally blue states have also invoked his name in paid advertising during the general election season positively.

Alek Skarlatos, a Republican running in a competitive seat in the Oregon House, highlights his connection to Obama in two ads. “Recommended by Obama. Skarlatos will bring balance to Washington,” says a narrator in one, while another notes that “Obama praised him for his service.” An Obama spokeswoman said the ads are “misleading.”

Obama has given some hints about his plans in recent interviews. Speaking to Pod Save America, a program hosted by his former aides, he said he wants to play the role of mentor to the next generation of Democratic leaders.

“One of the things I hope to do over the next few years is between elections maybe bring some of this talent together and see how I can elevate and support them,” Obama said in the interview.

And although he was warned about the divisiveness of social media, he took notice of his own followers on Twitter. “I still seem to have a lot of followers on Twitter,” Obama said. “And that’s more than some people, even though I don’t really talk about it all the time.”

Obama has 133.4 million followers on the social media platform. Trump had 88 million, before he was banned.

Detroit’s Dylan Wells assisted.


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