Former President Barack Obama made his return to the campaign trail at a Friday night outside of Atlanta, where he ridiculed Republicans for staying loyal to former President Donald Trump and mocked their choice of a Georgia Senate candidate, Herschel Walker.
‘Just about every Republican politician seems obsessed with two things – owning the libs – and getting Donald Trump’s approval,’ the former president said at the Gateway Center Arena in College Park, Georgia. ‘It’s not complicated. And, at least to me, it’s not very inspiring.’
Obama’s task was to bolster the campaigns of Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, who’s in a tight race against Walker, and gubernatorial hopeful Stacey Abrams, who’s trailing incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp.
‘Put down your phone and give TikTok a rest and vote,’ he told the crowd.
He took particular delight in going after Walker, a former Georgia football and NFL player, who has thus far survived a series of scandals, including allegations of paying for ex-girlfriends abortions.
Obama pointed out that for Walker there is ‘very little evidence that he has taken any interest, bothered to learn anything about, or displayed any kind of inclination toward public service, or volunteer work or helping people in any way.’
‘Seems to me he’s a celebrity who wants to be a politician,’ Obama remarked. ‘And we’ve seen how that goes. We’ve seen that before,’ he said, laughing.
Former President Barack Obama’s (center) task was to bolster the campaigns of Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock (right), who’s in a tight race against Republican Herschel Walker, and gubernatorial hopeful Stacey Abrams (right), who’s trailing incumbent GOP Gov. Brian Kemp
President Barack Obama is cheered by a crowd Friday night outside of Atlanta as he hits the campaign trail for the first time in the ’22 midterm cycle
Former President Barack Obama hugs an audience member as he hits the campaign trail in Georgia, a vital swing state
Former President Barack Obama (right) shakes hands with Sen. Raphael Warnock (left). Both Democrats mocked Republican Senate hopeful Herschel Walker
While clearly a reference to Trump, Obama was also labeled a ‘celebrity’ by his 2008 White House rival, the late Sen. John McCain.
‘There are a lot of young people here,’ Obama said. ‘Some of you may not remember, but Herschel Walker was a heck of a football player.’
‘But here’s the question, does that make him the best person to represent you in the U.S. Senate? Does that make him equipped to weigh in on the critical decisions about our economy and our foreign policy and our future?’
Obama then asked the audience to do a ‘thought experiment’ with him.
‘Let’s say you’re at the airport and you see Mr. Walker and you say, “Hey, there’s Herschel Walker, Heisman winner, let’s have him fly the plane!”‘ Obama said. ‘You probably wouldn’t say that. You’d probably want to know, “Does he know how to fly an airplane?”‘
Obama laid out the same idea, but at a hospital. ‘That Walker guy, he sure could tear him up at Sanford stadium, give him a scalpel,’ Obama said to laughs.
‘And by the way the opposite is true too, you may have liked me as president, but you would not want me starting as tailback for the Dogs,’ Obama continued. ‘Can you imagine my slow old skinny behind getting hit by some 300 pound defensive tackle … you’d have to scrape me off the field.’
‘No I can’t,’ Obama said.
Obama and Warnock also pointed to Walker’s memorable debate moment: when he pulled out a fake police badge onstage to show he was a supporter of law enforcement.
To the question of which Senate candidate would keep Georgia families safe, Obama mused, ‘Is it someone who carries around a phony badge and says he’s law enforcement?’
‘Like he’s a kid playing cops and robbers,’ Obama said to laughs.
Supporters of Democrats in Georgia attend a rally headlined by former President Barack Obama, Sen. Raphael Warnock and gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams
A woman holds up a sign encouraging Georgians to vote early at Friday night’s rally outside of Atlanta in support of Democrats
Obama and Warnock both pushed that Walker was a liar.
‘He wears his lies, literally, as a badge of honor,’ Warnock said.
Obama said he disliked ‘poking into people’s private lives.’
‘I’ve always felt that stuff was between a candidate and their family. But you know what’s not between them and their family are issues of character,’ the Democrat continued. ‘Being in the habit of not telling the truth.’
‘Being in the habit of saying one thing and doing another. Being in the habit of having certain rules for you and your important friends and other rules for everybody else. That says something about the kind of leader you’re going to be.’
‘And if a candidate’s main qualification is that he’s going to be loyal to Donald Trump, it means that he’s not going to be really thinking about you and your leads,’ Obama argued. ‘Georgia, you deserve better.’
Obama also went after Republican election deniers who are on midterm ballots this year.
He pointed to the first time he ran for Congress and ‘got whooped’ losing his primary, he said, by 30 points.
‘I didn’t claim the election was rigged. I didn’t try and stop voted from getting counted. I didn’t incite a mob to storm the Capitol. I took my lumps. I figured out why my campaign didn’t connect to voters,’ Obama said.
‘And by the way, I won the next time. Because that’s how our system works,’ the ex-president added.
‘But right now with a few notable exceptions, most of the GOP and a whole bunch of these candidates are not even pretending that the rules apply to them anymore,’ he said.
More broadly, Obama pushed that voters should give President Joe Biden and Democrats a pass for inflation and crime – the two issues Republicans have used to their advantage.
‘The fundamental question you should be asking yourself right now, is who will fight for you?’ Obama asked. ‘That’s the choice in this election.’
Obama called inflation a ‘real problem.’
‘It’s one of the legacies of the pandemic,’ he continued. ‘And then you have a war in Urkaine is not only engaging in incredible cruelty to the people of Ukraine, it also sent energy prices through the roof.’
Obama said that while the Republicans ‘talk a lot about it – what is their answer?’
Tax cuts for the rich, Obama said was the answer.
‘That’s their answer to everything. When inflation is low, let’s cut taxes. When unemployment’s high, gotta cut taxes. If there was an asteroid headed to earth. They would all get in a room and say, you know what we need, we need tax cuts for the wealthy.’
He said the Democrats had ‘serious answer to serious problems.’
‘Violent crime has gone up over the last seven years, not just the last two, not just in liberal states but in conservative, rural states too. That’s a serious problem,’ Obama said.
‘Who will fight to keep you and your family safe? The Republican politicians who want to flood our streets with more guns? Who actually voted against more resources for our police departments,’ Obama asked.
He used that moment to make the ‘cops and robbers’ crack.
‘If they get control of Congress, they’ll spend the next two years investigating their political opponents. Now how’s that going to help you pay the bills?’ he asked. ‘Or do you stand a better chance with President Biden and Democratic leaders who have worked together, sometimes with Republicans, to pass an infrastructure bill that will create new jobs, who’ve made healthcare and prescription drugs more afforable, who’ve made the single largest investment ever in the fight against a warming planet.’
Obama also used the issue of abortion to contrast the candidates of the two parties.
He admitted that abortion is ‘controversial’ in the U.S., but argued ‘we should all agree that women everywhere should be able to control, have a say, in what happens to their own bodies.’
The crowd was warmed up by a local radio DJ to oldies, hip-hop and go-go beats – and audience members were asked to shout out if they attended an HBCU – historically black colleges and universities. A drum line walked through the arena at the conclusion of the event.
Obama arrived in the Peach State on the heels of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer alerting Biden that the Democrats were in trouble in Georgia, a state Biden narrowly won over Trump in the 2020 race.
‘The state where we’re going downhill his Georgia. It’s hard to believe that they will go for Herschel Walker,’ Schumer told Biden on a Syracuse tarmac Thursday.
Georgia’s Senate race pits former University of Georgia and NFL great Walker, the Trump-backed Republican, against Warnock, the Democrat and senior pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, who won his seat in a special election and then a run-off in January 2021.
Warnock is now running for a full six-year term.
FiveThirtyEight.com considers it a true toss-up, giving Walker a 52 percent chance of winning, versus 48 percent for Warnock.
Walker’s run has been plagued with allegations that he asked previous girlfriends to obtain abortions, despite saying he’s pro-life, but his dramatic personal life hasn’t significantly dragged him down in the polls.
Abrams is engaged in a rematch of 2018 against Republican Gov. Brian Kemp.
Recent polls show the prominent Democratic voting rights advocate down significantly, with the Real Clear Politics polling average putting Kemp 7.4 points ahead.
Kemp has maintained GOP support despite crossing Trump over Georgia’s 2020 election result – and has attracted independents, with Rasmussen giving him a 17-point edge over Abrams among unaffiliated voters, according to a poll released Thursday.
After Atlanta, Obama is due to campaign in Michigan and Wisconsin on Saturday and will travel to Nevada and Pennsylvania next week.
The ex-president will campaign alongside Michigan’s Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who is being challenged by Republican Tudor Dixon.
And then he’ll try to help Wisconsin Democratic Senate hopeful Mandela Barnes, who lost his lead in his race against Republican incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson.
Schumer told Biden he thought things were looking up in Nevada, but Obama will travel there to shore up the campaigns of incumbent Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, running against Republican Adam Laxalt, and Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, who’s being challenged by Republican Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo.
In Pennylvania, Obama is expected to reunite with Biden, who served as his vice president, to help out Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, running for the state’s open Senate seat and coming off of a tough debate performance.
Obama will also stump for Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Josh Shapiro, who polls show have a healthy lead over Republican Doug Mastriano.
In 2020, Biden deployed Obama to Florida – a state he lost to Trump – and Pennsylvania, which he flipped back from 2016.
Obama used the chance to go after Trump gleefully.
This time around, there’s no obvious bogeyman – as Obama will be tasked to boast about Democratic accomplishments in the face of rising inflation and crime, two issues Republicans have used to their advantage.
‘President Obama is always a common thread that ties together the Democratic coalition: college educated voters, women, suburban voters and African-American. In an environment where turnout and enthusiasm is a priority, surrogates like President Obama are invaluable on the trail,’ explained Democratic strategist Joel Payne, a senior aide for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
And Obama knows how difficult midterms can be for the party that’s holding the White House, as he referred to his own 2010 blowout as a ‘shellacking.’
That year Democrats lost 63 House seats and six Senate seats – with Republicans successfully flipping control of the House of Representatives.
The Democrats later lost control of the Senate in the 2014 midterms during Obama’s second term.
The Democrats regained control of the House in 2018, in a midterm rebuke of Trump, and got control of the Senate after Warnock and fellow Georgia Democrat, Sen. Jon Ossoff, won their run-off races on January 5, 2021.