Democrats feeling down on their luck about the midterms in recent days are hoping former President Obama can help turn things around.
But can he? And will it be enough?
Obama, who arrived late on the scene on the midterms stage, has sought to offer a fiery closing argument for Democrats, who are on the verge of potentially losing the House and the Senate.
He slammed Republican lawmakers. He threw cold water on GOP conspiracy theories and took Republicans to task for their support of policies that would allow them to write off the costs of private jets on their tax returns.
The former president even quipped about the old issue over his birth certificate: “That’s the good old days. Remember when that was the craziest thing people said?” Obama said at a Milwaukee rally for Mandela Barnes, who is running for Senate in Wisconsin.
Some Democrats have reveled in Obama’s in-your-face rhetoric, with some saying he would save not only President Biden — whose approval ratings remain underwater — but the midterms in general.
“Obama did what Biden can’t: Captivated and fired up a room, and a nation,” said Democratic strategist Christy Setzer, who argued that the former president was exactly what the party needed. “No one makes Republicans look small the way Obama does.”
“For every Democratic voter who still needed a reason to go to the polls, Obama gave them that nudge,” she added.
Still, Obama’s campaign rhetoric didn’t save Democrats in the 2010 or 2014 midterms when he was president, and in 2016 his rallying calls weren’t enough to secure a victory for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Plenty of other Democrats also wondered if it was too little too late in 2022.
“Why do we always have to rely on Obama?” one Democratic strategist said.
“And where was this when early voting started? We needed this three weeks ago,” the strategist added.
In the coming days, Obama will be a key surrogate and closer in some of the most pivotal races in the midterms. He’s being deployed to Nevada, Arizona and Pennsylvania, three of the states that will determine whether Democrats hang on to their Senate majority.
Obama also recently made campaign stops in Milwaukee, Detroit and Atlanta, big cities in states with pivotal midterm battles for the Senate, House and governorships.
And while Biden has continued to campaign for candidates across the country, he is keeping a healthy distance from some of the places Obama has been stumping.
“Let’s put it this way: Obama has the power to close some of these close races. Biden does not,” another Democratic strategist said. “Obama still has that influence over the party, he still has that X-factor, and I don’t think the same can be said for Biden.”
But the strategist added, “He’s not some miracle worker. He can only do some much.”
Still, most Democrats think the late entry by Obama can at least help.
“There is no silver bullet,” said Democratic strategist Eddie Vale, who added that everyone in the coalition must work together.
The topics Obama touches on are wide-ranging, but he spends much of the time speaking about the threat to the country’s democracy. In an appearance in Detroit, Obama recalled losing to Rep. Bobby Rush in a House race in 2000.
“You know what I didn’t do, though? I didn’t claim the election was rigged. I didn’t try to stop the votes from being counted. I didn’t incite a mob to storm the Capitol,” he said. “I took my lumps. I figured out why my campaign hadn’t connected, and I tried to run a better race the next time, because that’s how our democracy is supposed to work.”
At the stop in Milwaukee, Obama depicted a Republican Party that is completely wedded to his successor, former President Trump.
“Own the libs and getting Donald Trump’s approval. That’s their agenda,” Obama said in Milwaukee. “They’re not interested in solving problems. They’re interested in making you angry, and then finding somebody to blame.
“And they’re hoping that’ll distract you from the fact that they don’t have any answers of their own,” he added.
Basil Smikle, a Democratic strategist and director of the public policy program at Hunter College, called Obama a “gifted campaigner whose talent is now combined with the urgency of now and no need to put guardrails on his rhetoric.”
“His forcefulness injects an enthusiasm and vigor on the trail after a tough week for Democrats when they needed to put a fine point on their closing argument,” he added.