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Obamas Step Up Political Efforts Ahead Of Midterms

Former President Barack Obama address the participants at a summit on climate change involving mayors from around the globe in Chicago, Dec. 5, 2017.
Associated Press
Former President Barack Obama address the participants at a summit on climate change involving mayors from around the globe in Chicago, Dec. 5, 2017.

Former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, are stepping up their political involvement ahead of the November midterm elections, moves aimed at bolstering Democratic enthusiasm as the party aims to regain control of Congress.

Advisers cast a speech Barack Obama will give Friday, when he accepts an ethics in government award, as the moment he will re-engage in politics after spending most of his post-presidency on the partisan sidelines. He'll enter the fray in a more traditional campaign sense Saturday when he stumps for several House Democratic candidates from California at an event in Orange County.

Meanwhile, Michelle Obama will headline voter registration rallies in Las Vegas and Miami later this month during a week of action by a new, nonpartisan organization, When We All Vote, which she co-chairs. It encourages voting in November and future elections.


Previewing Friday's address, an adviser said Obama would be "pointed" in taking on the current political environment, including President Donald Trump, and what has led to this moment in American politics. The adviser was not authorized to discuss Obama's thinking publicly and insisted on anonymity.

Obama will then campaign Saturday for several House Democratic candidates from California at an event in Orange County. He recently endorsed 81 Democrats up and down the ballot in 13 states, with a second wave expected in the fall.

The campaign activity with continue through October and include fundraising appearances. While Obama will be visible throughout the general election phase, he will not be a daily presence on the campaign trail, the adviser said.

While many Democrats have been clamoring for Obama to have a greater presence, advisers said he has taken a more low-key role in part to create room for a new generation of party leaders to step up. He's also said to be acutely aware that he does not have a strong track record in helping Democrats win in years when he's not on the ballot, and that his presence can have the effect of energizing Republicans, according to the adviser.

The former president's three priorities are to help Democrats take back control of the House, help his party win seats in the Senate, and support state-level candidates in order to influence the redistricting process for future congressional races.


Obama has weighed in with support for Democratic candidates or statements condemning Trump administration policies, but he has not helped Democrats frame their opposition to Trump. His campaign activity would mark a contrast from his predecessor, George W. Bush, who largely avoided the trail in 2010, the first midterm election after he turned the presidency over to Obama. Bush had adopted a policy of withholding public comment on his successor.

After his presidency, Bill Clinton campaigned during the 2002 midterms, the first under Bush.

For her part, Mrs. Obama will hold voter registration rallies in Las Vegas on Sept. 23 and Miami on Sept. 28, said Stephanie Young, communications director for When We All Vote.

Mrs. Obama announced last month that the organization is encouraging Americans to mark the 53rd anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in voting, by holding events Sept. 22-29 in their communities to sign people up to vote.

"This is important," she told volunteers on a conference call Wednesday. "If we organize and get things done and make these events exciting ... it's going to make a difference."

Mrs. Obama urged people to "be creative" and to "think outside the box" when planning events.

She has long been one of the most popular draws among Democrats, but it remains an open question whether she will campaign for any Democratic candidates. She has kept a low profile since leaving the White House in January 2017, limiting her political commitment for now to helping When We All Vote.

Her highly anticipated memoir, "Becoming," is due in stores on Nov. 13 — exactly one week after the midterm balloting — and Mrs. Obama is expected to devote the bulk of her time until then to preparing for the book's worldwide release and subsequent media tour.

In addition to Mrs. Obama's events in Las Vegas and Miami, Janelle Monae, another When We All Vote co-chair, is scheduled to host an event at Spelman College in Atlanta on a to-be-announced date.

The Las Vegas, Miami and Atlanta events are among those being planned for other co-chairs to host in a dozen key cities, including Detroit, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Chicago, New York, Pittsburgh, Nashville, Tennessee, Houston and Cleveland. Other co-chairs are actor Tom Hanks, "Hamilton" creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, the NBA's Chris Paul, and singers Faith Hill and Tim McGraw.