Obama Returns to Campaign Stage for Governors' Races

by | October 23, 2017

By Cathleen Decker

Returning to the campaign trail nine months after he left the presidency, Barack Obama laced into Donald Trump's presidency as dismantling the gains of his two terms in office and taking America backward.

Obama did not utter Trump's name during his speech at a rally in Newark for Phil Murphy, the Democratic candidate for governor of New Jersey. But his target was clear.

Obama suggested the New Jersey governor's race in November would serve as a correction from last year's Republican presidential victory.

"What we can't have is the same old politics of division that we have seen so many times before, that dates back centuries," he said. "Some of the politics we see now we thought we'd put that to bed. That's folks looking 50 years back. This is the 21st century, not the 19th century. Come on."

Democratic victories in governor's races next month will send an international message to allies unnerved by the Trump presidency, he suggested.

"Not only will you move New Jersey forward, but you can send a message to the country and send a message to the world that we are rejecting the politics of division, we are rejecting the politics of fear, and we are embracing a politics that says everybody counts, a politics that says everybody deserves a chance," he said.

After his speech on behalf of Murphy, who served as Obama's first ambassador to Germany, Obama planned to appear at a rally in Richmond, Va., for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ralph Northam. Murphy has held a wide lead in polling leading up to the Nov. 7 election, but Northam has led only narrowly.

The dual speeches were part of a rollout that Democrats hope will encourage turnout by the younger and minority voters who flocked to Obama but traditionally have spurned off-year elections. Hours before the president arrived in Richmond, hundreds of supporters lined up for blocks around the convention center where he was to speak.

Obama has remained largely silent since he left the White House, even as Trump has sought to erase many of his signature policies. Obama defended his tenure by noting that he took office in the heart of a major recession and helped bring the country back, the unemployment rate cut almost in half.

"The good news is times aren't as hard for everybody as they were" when he came into office, Obama said. "We created millions of jobs, and we got wages and incomes growing again.

"And," he added pointedly, "by the way, we covered a whole bunch of folks with insurance, too."

That was only the first reference to Obamacare, the health care program that Trump has sought to repeal and undercut. Murphy, he said later, would help make sure health care was "protected from political gamesmanship."

Obama said he understood that many in America were still struggling: "We've still got work to do. We know we've got more work to do to create a stronger, fair economy for every family."

With an eye to young voters in the crowd, Obama implored them to show up in November with an arch reference to the 2016 election.

"You can't take this election, or any election, for granted. I don't know if you all noticed that," he said dryly.

As Obama entered the rally in Newark, the crowd opened with a chant: "Four more years! Four more years!"

He replied with a laugh.

"I will refer you both to the Constitution as well as to Michelle Obama to explain why that will not happen," he said.

(c)2017 Los Angeles Times