Obama offers closing message as political tensions rise in the United States


COLLEGE PARK, Ga. — Former President Barack Obama kicked off his campaign comeback by taking on Georgia soccer icon and Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker.

“Herschel Walker was one hell of a football player,” Obama told the crowd at Gateway Center Arena, adjacent to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. But that wouldn’t make him any more qualified to be a US senator than to fly a plane or perform surgery, the former president cracked, drawing laughter and cheers from the more than 7,000 people who waited hours to see him. .

“Georgia deserves better,” Obama said.

With just over a week to go before the midterm elections, Obama, 61, has been stepping into the political spotlight with rallies to drum up interest in midterm races in states of the battlefield.

A day after appearing in Georgia with Sen. Raphael G. Warnock, who is in a close race with Walker, and Stacey Abrams, who is trailing in her rematch with Gov. Brian Kemp, Obama headlined the rallies in Michigan and Wisconsin.

The former president is considered the Democratic Party’s best communicator to grassroots voters, more in demand than President Biden, who has not been the sought-after surrogate in top races amid a dismal approval rating. The president spent one of the cycle’s busiest campaign weekends at his home in Delaware, where he watched his granddaughter’s field hockey game and, separately, voted.

Democratic strategists say Obama is the only party leader who can draw large grassroots motivational crowds without simultaneously angering the other side.

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

And in Wisconsin, Obama called some of the GOP TV ads that portray Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, who is black, as someone “different.”

“Mandela, get ready to dig up that birth certificate,” joked Obama, a reference to former President Donald Trump’s conspiracy theory that Obama wasn’t actually born in the United States.

But he also argued that democracy was on the ballot and proposed that his party be more serious about solutions to issues that voters are concerned about, including abortion rights, inflation and crime.

Obama, who left office in 2017, is raising his profile at a complicated time, with polls showing Democrats losing momentum midterm. And political tensions have risen dramatically in recent days with heightened anxiety following the violent attack on Paul Pelosi by an assailant who was looking for his wife, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

In Georgia, Obama took to the stage just hours after the attack. “I want to take a moment just to say a prayer for a friend of mine, 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 about each other that means that …which creates a dangerous climate,” Obama said.

But even as he spoke of civility in Michigan, Obama was heckled, 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. “Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. Hold on.”

Later, Obama acknowledged that the political environment had become more difficult. Being on the campaign trail, he said, “feels a little harder than it used to — not just because I’m older and grayer,” Obama said. “One has the impression that this fundamental foundation of democracy is in danger. …Things won’t work out on their own.

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

“Like Clinton, Obama is also good at telling a larger story about country, time, and choice,” Axelrod said, referring to former President Bill Clinton, who has been conspicuously absent from the campaign trail. as is his wife, former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Republicans said it was a sign of weakness that the biggest Democrat closest this year was a past president rather than a potential future leader.

“Never look back in politics,” said Dan Eberhart, a major Republican donor. “It’s a sign that you have a weak bench and no vision for the future. Bringing Obama in to make the case for the Democrats is acknowledging that the party is rudderless under Joe Biden. It’s not a strong movement.

On the GOP side, Trump, who could once again seek the White House, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis drew large crowds.

Obama’s message to voters touches on the same topics as the one coming from the current White House. He comes with the former president’s unique blend of folksy relatability, and he’s keen to recognize the challenges voters face when confronted with tough issues.

Abortion is “controversial,” Obama said Friday in Georgia, adding that “I sincerely believe that there are people of good conscience who may be different from me on this issue.”

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

And violent crime “has increased,” the former president acknowledges, though he points out that the trend extends to Democratic and Republican administrations and red and blue states.

“Who voted against more resources for our police departments?” asked Obama. “Is this someone wearing a fake badge and saying they’re law enforcement?” he joked, referring to an honorary sheriff’s badge Walker displayed during a debate to demonstrate his imperviousness to law enforcement.

Walker, reacting to Obama’s comments that the former professional soccer player is a “celebrity” who hasn’t worked to become a political leader, reportedly told reporters, “I’m not a celebrity, I’m a warrior for God.”

Dixon dismissed Obama’s appearance in Michigan as “a last-minute robbery” that would do little to “wipe out all the lies and broken promises” from Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who has a slight ahead in the polls ahead of the final days of his re-election bid.

If there’s been one complaint from Democrats, it’s that Obama didn’t get on the trail soon enough.

“In my humble opinion, they should have done it 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 clamor on the trail is a shift from 2010 – the first half-terms of his presidency. It was Biden, his vice president, in demand and traveling to districts where Obama himself was unwanted.

In Georgia, members of the public brought chairs and waited hours for him to speak to secure good seats, wearing 2008-era Obama T-shirts and exchanging stories about seeing his inaugural speech in the cold.

“He’s proven once again that he’s the leader of the party spiritually, mentally, I mean, he’s just the greatest speech given in our lifetimes,” Michael Tropp, 43, of Atlanta, said after Obama’s speech. “They’re bringing out the big guns, they’re bringing out President Barack Obama when they need him the most.”

“Part of that is a function of being an ex-president rather than a sitting president, on receiving all the incoming [criticism] in the midterm elections,” Axelrod said.

And after leaving the stage in Georgia on Friday night, Rep. Obama FaceTimed Karen Bass, a Democratic candidate for mayor of Los Angeles. And after his speech in Michigan, he headed to Wisconsin and ended up there for the Democratic ticket, where Barnes is in a tight race and Gov. Tony Evers is seeking re-election.

On Tuesday, Obama is due to travel to Nevada, where Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto and Governor Steve Sisolak, both Democrats, face tough re-elections. His team says further travel is planned. Obama, through a spokeswoman, declined an interview request for this story.

Much of his message is pushing Democrats to vote. Obama gave an interview on “Monday Night Football with Peyton and Eli,” known as “ManningCast,” which generated about 10 million views on a website with voting information, according to data from the office. ‘Obama.

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 he wrote emails on behalf of lesser-known Democratic committees, including the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State and the Democratic Legislative Campaign. Committee.

Obama also appears in a series of campaign ads for Democrats, including those running in a number of gubernatorial contests, including in Oregon, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Maryland. Obama’s team says there are more to come.

Remarkably, some Republicans running in traditionally blue states also invoked his name in paid ads during the general election season in a positive light.

Alek Skarlatos, a Republican running for a competitive Oregon House seat, highlights his connection to Obama in two ads. “Praised by Obama. Skarlatos will bring balance to Washington,” a narrator says in one, while another adds that he was “praised by Obama for his service.” An Obama spokeswoman called the ads “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 wanted to play a mentoring role to the next generation of Democratic leaders.

“One of the things I hope to do over the next few years is maybe gather some of that talent between elections and see how I can nurture it and support it,” Obama said in the interview.

And while he was warned about the social media split, he noted his own following on Twitter. “Turns out I still have a lot of Twitter followers,” Obama said. “And that’s more than some people, although I don’t really talk about it all the time.”

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

Dylan Wells contributed from Detroit.

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