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Obama tries to rescue Democrats from US midterm losses

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Former President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign event in Georgia on October 28, 2022./AFP
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Oct 31, 2022 - 05:14 AM

WASHINGTON — In the run-up to the high-stakes midterm elections next week, President Joe Biden is out on the stump in many states.

But his one-time boss, former president Barack Obama, is also campaigning hard to rescue a faltering Democratic Party.

On Friday, the two men spoke at the same time, in two different corners of the United States: Biden in Pennsylvania and Obama in Georgia, two crucial states for Democratic Party aspirations in Congress.

Both presidents have employed nearly the same speech: the need to save American democracy by blocking Donald Trump’s Republican Party.

Stealing the show 

Long-known for his oratory skills, Obama has sometimes stolen the limelight from his former vice president, whose campaign appearances are more prosaic.

“If they win, there’s no telling what might happen,” Obama said on Friday about the Republicans, visibly enjoying the enthusiasm of his audience in Atlanta.

“I need you to get off your couch and vote! Put down your phone and give TikTok a rest and vote!”

It was a return to the stage for the former president, who governed for two terms ending in early 2017. Out of the public eye, Obama devoted himself to producing documentaries, writing and philanthropy.

But now, as a campaign surrogate, Obama is keeping very busy. After Georgia, Obama headed to Michigan and Wisconsin for campaign events Saturday. He will be in Nevada Tuesday, then on to Pennsylvania.

Obama’s deft handling of campaign crowds was on display Saturday in Detroit when a heckler interrupted him. “Right now, I’m talking,” Obama said calmly. “You’ll have a chance to talk sometime later… It’s not how we do things.”

Recent opinion polls offered the Democratic Party hope of retaining precarious control of the Senate, while losing control of the lower House of Representatives to the Republicans.

Even more recently, though, some right-wing candidates are rising in polls, including some of former president Trump’s fiercest Republican defenders. Now, the White House fears the losses in the House could be greater than expected.

If those losses spread to key Senate races, it would put both houses of Congress under Republican control.

‘Inherent danger’ 

Barack Obama is, in a way, well-placed to sound the alarm: his party suffered what he himself called a “shellacking” in the 2010 legislative elections marking the halfway point of his first term.

“There is an inherent danger in being in the White House and being in the bubble,” he said at the time, referring to the 160-year history of midterm elections that almost always punish the party in power.

Joe Biden, who prides himself on being a president of the “middle class,” far from the Washington bubble, has nevertheless given the impression since the beginning of the campaign that he does not relish straying into hostile electoral territory.

He travels regularly and raises funds for the Democratic Party, but the unpopular 79-year-old president has not ventured into some of the most highly contested states, such as Arizona. Biden will hold a final rally in Maryland, considered a very safe choice.

Obama, for his part, expressed concern in an interview posted online in mid-October about the direction Democrats were taking.

He fretted that they were mired in abstract polemics around complex social issues, appearing  disconnected from people’s everyday lives, while Republicans bashed Democrats on crime and the soaring cost of living.

Believing that politics should not be a matter of “buzzkill,” Obama warned the party should help people “not feel as if they are walking on eggshells.”

He urged the party to be “a little more real and a little more grounded,” saying that tack would go “a long way in counteracting what is… the systematic propaganda that I think is being pumped out by Fox News,” the preferred TV channel of Republicans.

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