Watch: Obama headlines his first campaign rally of 2018 in California

Posted at 3:11 PM, Sep 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-08 15:57:53-04

Former President Barack Obama, a day after delivering a stinging critique of President Donald Trump’s years in office, will headline his first rally of the 2018 midterm elections on Saturday, stumping with seven Democrats looking to turn their congressional districts blue in November.

The event, a 750-person rally for seven Democrats running in districts Hillary Clinton won in 2016 but which are represented by the Republicans in the House, will officially end Obama’s absence from the campaign trail, a months-long absence that has angered some Democrats who believe he is not engaging in a political fight where he could be helpful.

Obama’s rally at the Anaheim Convention Center will benefit Josh Harder (CA-10), TJ Cox (CA-21), Katie Hill (CA-25), Gil Cisneros (CA-39), Katie Porter (CA-45), Harley Rouda (CA-48), and Mike Levin (CA-49), all candidates backed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the group organizing the rally.

Obama aides tell CNN that his message on Saturday will be similar to the lengthy and direct indictment he delivered on Friday in Illinois, where the former President reentered the political fray by attacking Trump, slamming him for “capitalizing on resentment that politicians have been fanning for years.”

The speech was a break from tradition — one where former commanders-in-chief don’t criticize their successors — but Obama argued that Trump’s presidency represented “one of those pivotal moments when every one of us, as citizens of the United States, need to determine just who it is that we are, just what it is that we stand for.”

“You happen to be coming of age” amid backlash to progress, Obama told the students at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “It did not start with Donald Trump, he is a symptom, not the cause. He is just capitalizing on resentment that politicians have been fanning for years. A fear, an anger that is rooted in our past but is also borne in our enormous upheavals that have taken place in your brief lifetimes.”

Obama lambasted Trump for leaning on law enforcement to protect Republicans from prosecution, slammed them for “cozying up” to Russian President Vladimir Putin and faulted him for equivocating about who was at fault during the white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“We are supposed to stand up to discrimination and we are sure as heck to stand up clearly and unequivocally to Nazi sympathizers,” he said. “How hard can that be, saying that Nazis are bad?” Obama said.

And in a message Obama is expected to repeat on Saturday, Obama stressed the importance of voting and told the young people their vote was the “antidote” to what ails Washington.

“Don’t tell me your vote doesn’t matter,” he said. “And if you thought elections don’t matter, I hope these last two years have corrected the impression.”

A polarizing draw to the polls

Those Democrats Obama will rally with on Saturday welcomed his return to the campaign trail.

“It’s truly exciting to welcome President Obama to Southern California, and I welcome the opportunity to campaign alongside him and energize voters ahead of the final two months of the campaign,” Cisneros said in a statement.

Chelsea Brossard, Harder’s campaign manager, called Saturday an “all hands on deck moment” for the campaign and said they were “proud to have this level of support as we begin the final stretch.”

But Republicans have been just as eager to welcome Obama back to the campaign trail, too, believing he will rally their base as much, if not more, than he rallies Democrats.

“For three cycles (2010, 2012, 2014) President Obama fired up Republicans like nobody,” Rep. Steve Stivers, the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told reporters on Friday. “And I’m happy he wants to do it again.”

Following his California visit, Obama will travel to Ohio next Thursday for an event for Richard Cordray, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Ohio, and he is also slated to headline a campaign event in Pennsylvania later this month, and a New York fundraiser for the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, an organization led by former Attorney General Eric Holder, Obama’s longtime friend.