COLLEGE PARK, Ga. (AP) – Former President Barack Obama returned to the campaign trail in Georgia on Friday, using his first stop on a multi-state tour to frame the 2022 midterm elections as a referendum on democracy and to urge voters not to to see Republicans in response to their economic woes.
It was a delicate balance, as the former president acknowledged the pain of inflation and tried to explain why President Joe Biden and the Democrats shouldn’t take all the blame, given the prospect of a slim majority in the House and Senate. to lose when the votes are counted November 8. But Obama argued that Republicans who want to make it harder for people to vote and — like former President Donald Trump — are willing to ignore the results, are also not to trust Americans’ wallets.
“That fundamental basis of our democracy is now being questioned,” Obama told more than 5,000 voters gathered outside of Atlanta. “Democrats are not perfect. I’m the first to admit it. …But right now, with a few notable exceptions, most of the GOP and a whole host of these candidates don’t even pretend the rules apply to them.
With Biden’s approval ratings in the low 40s, Democrats hope Obama’s rise in the final weeks of the campaign will boost the party list in a difficult national environment. He shared the stage Friday with Senator Raphael Warnock, who faces a tough reelection battle from Republican Herschel Walker, and Stacey Abrams, who is trying to oust Republican government Brian Kemp, who narrowly defeated her four years ago.
Obama travels to Michigan and Wisconsin on Saturday, followed by stops next week in Nevada and Pennsylvania.
For Obama personally, the campaign blitz is an opportunity to do something he couldn’t do in two midterms during his presidency: help Democrats succeed in national midterm elections while already holding the White House. It is an opportunity for his party to take advantage of Obama’s resurgence in popularity since his last midterm defeats in 2014. They hope the former president can sell arguments that Biden, his former vice president, has struggled to land.
Biden was in Pennsylvania Friday with Vice President Kamala Harris and plans to be in Georgia next week, possibly in a joint meeting with Obama and statewide Democratic candidates. But he has not been welcomed as a surrogate for many Democratic candidates across the country, including Warnock.
“Obama occupies a rare place in our politics today,” said David Axelrod, who helped shape Obama’s campaigns from his days in the Illinois state Senate to two presidential elections. “Obviously, he has great appeal to Democrats. But he is also loved by independent voters.”
That range was what Obama tried to show off on Friday. The first black president was hailed as a hero by a predominantly black audience, and he praised the Democrats with much applause. But he saved many of his arguments, especially on the economy, for moderates, independents and loose voters, including a defense of Biden, who Obama says is “fighting for you every day.”
He called inflation “a legacy of the pandemic,” the resulting supply chain disruption and the fallout from the war in Ukraine on global oil markets — a sweeping response to Republican efforts to blame Democrats’ spending bills alone. .
“What is their answer? … They want to give the rich tax cuts,” Obama said of the GOP. “That’s their answer to everything. Let’s cut taxes when inflation is low. If unemployment is high, let’s cut taxes. If there was an asteroid on its way to Earth, they’d all come into a room and say, you know what we need? We need tax cuts for the rich. How is that going to help you?”
Biden has tried to make similar arguments and was bolstered this week with news of economic growth of 2.6% in the third quarter, after two consecutive quarters of negative growth.
But Lis Smith, a Democratic strategist, said Obama is better positioned to convince voters who haven’t decided who to vote for or not at all.
“If it’s just a straight referendum on the Democrats and the economy, we’re screwed,” Smith said. “But in the election you have to make a choice between the two parties, crystallize the differences.”
Obama, she said, did so in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections “by winning over many white working class voters and others that we don’t always think of as part of the ‘Obama Coalition’.”
Obama left office in January 2017 with a 59% approval rating, and Gallup measured his post-presidential approval at 63% the following year, the last time the organization polled former presidents. That’s significantly higher than his ratings in 2010, when Democrats lost control of the House in a midterm election that Obama called a “shellacking.” In its second by-election, four years later, the GOP regained control of the Senate.
Still, Bakari Sellers, a prominent Democratic commentator, said Obama’s wider popularity should not disguise how much his “special connection” with black voters and other non-white voters can help Democrats.
The Atlanta meeting brought Obama together with Warnock, the first black US senator in Georgia history, and Abrams, who is competing to become the first black female governor in US history.
In Michigan, Obama will campaign in Detroit with Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who is being challenged by Republican Tudor Dixon, and in Wisconsin, he will be in Milwaukee with Senate candidate Mandela Barnes, who is trying to oust Republican Senator Ron Johnson. The state’s black population is most concentrated in each city. Obama’s swing in Pennsylvania will include Philadelphia, another city where Democrats must get a strong turnout of black voters to win competitive races for the Senate and governor.
With the Senate now split 50-50 between the two major parties and Vice President Kamala Harris giving the Democrats the casting vote, any Senate contest can ultimately decide which party controls the chamber for the next two years. Among the Senate’s tightest battlefields, Georgia, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, there are three where the rise of blacks can most determine Democratic fate.
Axelrod said Obama’s move from his own mid-term flogging to the Democrats’ leading surrogate is, in part, a rite of passage for any former president. “Most of them — maybe not President Trump, but most of them — are viewed more favorably after they leave office,” Axelrod said.
Notably, during the Obama presidency, former President Bill Clinton was the much sought-after heavyweight surrogate, especially for moderates trying to survive Republican surges in 2010 and 2014.
Axelrod said Obama and Clinton have a similar approach.
“What Clinton and Obama share is a kind of unique ability to get around complicated political arguments of the time, just talk in common sense,” Axelrod said. “They’re storytellers.”
Learn more about the issues and factors involved in the 2022 midterm elections at https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections. And follow the AP’s election coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections.
This story has been corrected to show that Abrams, not Kemp, is trying to relieve the governor.