Obama's latest campaign stop: Pennsylvania, key to Democrats' success
Former President Barack Obama continued his spirited effort to boost his party's midterm ambitions with an event Friday in Pennsylvania, a state pivotal to Democratic hopes of winning back congressional majorities and one that could provide an indication of whether Democrats have made inroads with blue-collar voters, less than two years after President Donald Trump rode their support to the White House.
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Joining Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Sen. Bob Casey, both up for re-election in November, as well as a number of Democratic congressional candidates eyeing seats in the state's newly redrawn districts, Obama continued to rail against the ongoing "backlash against progress" he sees in Washington, repeatedly invoking Trump's actions without once naming the current president.
Some of Obama's most spirited critiques came in response Trump's claims of responsibility for the nation's ongoing economic prosperity. The former president was quick to ask the crowd rhetorically when they think the recovery from the Great Recession began.
"When you hear folks taking credit for this economic miracle — hold on." Obama said. "They act like it just started. Please."
The event, at the open-air Dell Music Center on the banks of the Schuylkill River, northwest of Philadelphia, followed Obama's campaign stop in Cleveland a week ago and his endorsement of more than 80 Democratic candidates nationwide. He was particularly adamant about the role Pennsylvania could play in Democrats' success in November, telling the crowd that they had a chance "to restore some sanity" to the country.
As he was in Cleveland, where he stumped for Ohio gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray, the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in his administration, Obama was direct Friday in his criticisms of Republicans, majority-holders in both houses of Congress, for complicity in the shattering of political norms to a point that has nearly exceeded control.
"They're trying to scare the heck out of you," he said. "In a healthy democracy, that kind of fear-mongering doesn't work."
Though he didn't once address Trump by name, former president cautioned however that his fellow Democrats shouldn't be viewing the upcoming midterm elections as an opportunity to "vote against someone," instead touting the backgrounds diversity of Pennsylvania's House candidates and noting that the state does not currently have a female member of Congress.
"I can tell you -- and Michelle didn’t put me up to this -- stuff works better if women are involved," said Obama, joking about former First Lady Michelle Obama."
With Democrats intending to wrest control of the House from Republicans, while hoping to protect a number of vulnerable Senate seats, as they seek to act as a check on President Trump, perhaps no state is as important as Pennsylvania. Trump won the state by less than one percentage point over Hillary Clinton in 2016, but Republicans captured 13 of 18 House seats.
Early this year, however, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered a redrawing of the state's congressional districts, which it ruled had been unfairly gerrymandered, leading to new boundaries that are universally thought to be far more accommodating to Democrats than the old ones. Then, in March, Democrat Conor Lamb won a narrow victory in a special election in the southwestern 18th district, previously a Republican stronghold.
As it stands, as many as seven seats could be in play in November and state Democrats feel they are likely to become the majority party within Pennsylvania's state delegation, provided the Democratic enthusiasm that has marked the elections since Trump took office continues. To that end, Obama encouraged Democrats to take an active role come November and not grow complacent, the same message he delivered last week in Ohio and a week earlier while accepting an award from the University of Illinois.
"If you don’t like what's going on right now, don’t complain. Don’t hashtag. Don’t put your head in the sand. Don’t boo. Don’t sit back with your boys and act like you’re too cool. Vote," Obama said, citing "indifference" and "cynicism" as the biggest threats to democracy.
In addition to the House seats Democrats are confident of flipping, party officials say they are relatively comfortable with the current positions of both Wolf and Casey, despite Republican efforts to target the seats playoff off momentum from Trump's 2016 victory in the state. Trump visited northeastern Pennsylvania in early August in support of Rep. Lou Barletta, Casey's Senate challenger, but recent polls have shown the two-term senator ahead by double digits.
Wolf, too, outpaced his Republican challenger Scott Wagner by 14 points in an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll conducted last month, as he seeks to win a second term.
ABC News' Stephanie Ebbs and John Verhovek contributed to this report.News - Obama's latest campaign stop: Pennsylvania, key to Democrats' success