Former President Barack Obama has stepped back into partisan politics on the campaign trail in anticipation of the November 2018 midterms. His campaign focuses on two states, California and Ohio, that Democrats hope to win in November.
Obama’s first campaign event took place in Orange County, California, a traditionally conservative area of the state where the Republicans may lose several seats in the House of Representatives. Obama was joined by Democratic candidates from all seven of California’s Republican-held districts that Democratic Nominee Hillary Clinton won in 2016.
Following his appearance in California, Obama moved to campaign in Cleveland, Ohio for his administration’s former bank regulator Richard Cordray, who is the Democratic nominee for the Ohio governorship. Republicans have held control of the state government in Ohio since 2010.
Former President Obama’s appearance on the campaign trail comes at a pivotal moment in the election cycle, as Democrats are hoping to make significant gains in the House and Senate.
Representative Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico, and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in the New York Times that Obama’s influence would provide an “inspirational voice and unifying message on the campaign trail.”
Katie Hill, a spokeswoman for Obama, said in the New York Times he would argue to voters “that this moment in our country is too perilous for Democratic voters to sit out.”
Obama also plans to campaign for Democrats in Illinois and Pennsylvania, both states that have critical races for Congress and governor in November.
Obama has long said that he wanted to follow the example set by Former President George W. Bush, who largely kept out of politics after leaving office. However, Democrats have been frustrated that Obama has stayed out of the public eye as Trump attempts to dismantle his legacy and ignore norms that presidents on both sides of the aisle have followed.
At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on Sept. 7, Obama delivered a candid indictment of President Donald Trump, calling his successor a “threat to our democracy,” a demagogue using the “politics of fear and resentment.”
“None of this is conservative. I don’t mean to pretend I’m channeling Abraham Lincoln now, but that’s not what he had in mind, I think, when he helped form the Republican Party,” said Obama when talking to students at the University. “It’s not conservative. It sure isn’t normal. It’s radical. It’s a vision that says the protection of our power and those who back us is all that matters even when it hurts the country.”
President Trump responded quickly to Obama’s remarks.
“I’m sorry, I watched it, but I fell asleep,” said Trump at a fundraiser in North Dakota. “I found he’s very good, very good for sleeping.”
Some worry that Obama’s return to the campaign trail may fuel Trump’s base, as well as the Democratic base, by giving Trump an opponent.
“I understand the idea that Democrats want to get the former president on the campaign trail as much as possible,” said Jim Manley, a longtime Senate Democratic aide, to the New York Times, “but I’m not so sure that makes sense strategically because Trump would love nothing more than to use Obama as a punching bag.”