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In a rousing speech before the Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, former President Barack Obama lambasted the Trump administration and urged the Democratic faithful to turn out in droves to elect Joe Biden.
“We can’t be complacent,” Obama said Wednesday at what the Biden campaign advertised as a “drive-in town hall.”
“I don’t care about the polls. There were a whole bunch of polls last time — didn’t work out, because a whole bunch of folks stayed at home, and got lazy and complacent. Not this time. Not this election.”
Obama stressed that a Biden-Harris administration would be, above all, a return to normalcy after what he described as the chaos of the Trump era, including the president’s penchant for elevating baseless conspiracy theories online.
“With Joe and Kamala you’re not going to have to think about the crazy things they say every day,” said Obama. “It just won’t be so exhausting. You might be able to have a Thanksgiving dinner without having an argument.”
He added: “You’ll be able to go about your lives knowing that the president is not going to retweet conspiracy theories about secret cabals running the world or that Navy SEALs didn’t actually kill bin Laden. Think about that. The president of the United States retweeted that."
Obama’s speech Wednesday evening is the first of several eleventh-hour appearances the former president is making on behalf of his old running mate. In the final stretch before Election Day, Obama is expected to hit several critical battleground states, though it’s unclear exactly where he’s off to next.
According to CNN, Obama was reluctant to participate in the 2020 campaign season after former Presidents George W. Bush and the late George H.W. Bush advised him to stay above the fray. The younger Bush, who had low approval ratings when he left office in 2009, has largely avoided campaigning for Republicans since becoming a private citizen. And Obama notably sat out the Democratic presidential primaries earlier this year.
Obama, however, remains popular. In 2018, Gallup found that 63 percent of Americans had a positive view of the former commander in chief.
Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, meanwhile, remains overwhelmingly unpopular. Obama outlined what he believes to be critical failures by the White House, and told voters that Trump’s mercurial personality and propensity to lie will only further jeopardize the nation.
“Tweeting at the television doesn’t fix things. Making stuff up doesn’t make people’s lives better. You’ve got to have a plan,” Obama said. “We literally left this White House a pandemic playbook. ... They probably used it to prop up a wobbly table somewhere.”
“Donald Trump isn’t suddenly going to protect all of us. He can’t even take the basic steps to protect himself,” Obama later added.
The former president also argued that Trump is being held to a lower standard than previous presidents —including Obama himself.
“We know that he continues to do business with China because he’s got a secret Chinese bank account. How is that possible? Can you imagine if I had a secret Chinese bank account when I was running for reelection? You think Fox News might have been a little concerned about that? They would have called me ‘Beijing Barry,’” said Obama.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolfe and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, among other Democratic officials, also spoke at the rally.
Obama is using his cachet to appeal directly to Black men, who traditionally have a lower turnout rate and tend to be more conservative than Black women. The campaign has been targeting Black men for months as part of a larger turnout initiative, which included an ad featuring numerous Black mayors. In 2016, Black male turnout dropped 7 points nationally from 2012, the last year Obama was on the ballot.
“I’ll confess, when I was 20 years old I wasn’t all that woke, because I had other stuff that I was interested in. I won’t go into details,” Obama said during a roundtable of community leaders earlier Wednesday afternoon. When remarking upon lower turnout rates among Black men, Obama added: “The truth is they’re not involved because they’re young and they’re distracted.”
The last time Obama campaigned in Pennsylvania in a presidential year was right before Election Day in 2016, when he stumped for then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The former secretary of state would go on to lose Pennsylvania by fewer than 50,000 votes.
The Biden campaign has been sending several surrogates to stump on the former vice president’s behalf in Pennsylvania, perhaps the most important battleground state of the election. Former candidate and businessman Andrew Yang visited last week, and Democratic nominee runner-up Sen. Bernie Sanders will go there this weekend.
Biden, a Scranton native, has campaigned heavily throughout the state in recent months, but has opted to remain in Delaware this week to prepare for the final presidential debate on Thursday.
Both campaigns have spent millions on in-state advertising; the Trump campaign and allied groups have spent $16 million compared to Biden’s nearly $35 million. It would be difficult, if not impossible, for Trump to win reelection if he doesn’t win Pennsylvania and its 20 electoral votes.
Obama also criticized Trump’s recent rally in the state.
“I know the president spent some time in Erie last night. And apparently he complained about having to travel here. Then he cut the event short. Poor guy. I don’t feel that way. I love coming to Pennsylvania.”
Despite his lead both nationally and in Pennsylvania, a recently leaked Biden campaign memo urged staffers to take nothing for granted.
“The reality is that this race is far closer than some of the punditry we’re seeing on Twitter and on TV would suggest. In the key battleground states where this election will be decided, we remain neck and neck with Donald Trump,” wrote campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon.
Obama likewise warned against Democrats becoming apathetic or overconfident about Biden’s chances.
“What we do now these next 13 days will matter for decades to come,” he said.
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