Obama Hits California Campaign Trail in Fight for House

(Bloomberg) -- Former President Barack Obama hit the campaign trail for the first time since leaving office, urging Democrats to get out the vote in their bid to win the net 23 seats they need to regain control of the House of Representatives.

A day after delivering a blunt rebuke to Donald Trump in Illinois. Obama on Saturday didn’t mention the president by name. Still, Trump was the undercurrent of several of Obama’s remarks to a crowd of about 750 in Anaheim, California.

Obama Hits California Campaign Trail in Fight for House

“The stakes are high in this election. This is a consequential moment in our history,” Obama told the crowd. “The fact is, if we don’t step up, things can get worse.”

The invitation-only “Take it Back California” rally in a ballroom at the city’s convention center was held on behalf of seven candidates from Central and Southern California attempting to flip House seats held by Republicans in congressional districts that Hillary Clinton won in the 2016 presidential election.

The hopefuls on hand were Josh Harder (10th District), TJ Cox (21st District), Katie Porter (45th District), Gil Cisneros (39th District), Harley Rouda (48th District) and Mike Levin (49th District). The seventh, Katie Hill (25th District), was recognized at the rally but was unable to attend because of a prior commitment.

Levin, who’s running for the seat being vacated by Republican Darrell Issa, said Obama is a big draw for Democrats: “I think he could have filled up a hall ten times this size.”

No Slippers

The former president urged voters who’ve remained on the sidelines, or in their “house slippers” to grab some clip-boards and knock on doors to get out the vote.

“In two months we have a chance to restore some sanity in our politics,” Obama said. “If these candidates win I’m absolutely confident Washington will start working better.”

Obama’s speech, delivered at a venue across the street from Disneyland -- the former president recounted having been kicked out of the theme park for smoking as a college student -- is part of a cross-country campaign to promote Democrats for Congress and state legislatures ahead of the Nov. 6 mid-term elections.

On Friday, Obama used an acceptance speech for an “ethics in government” award at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to lay into Trump and Congressional Republicans, saying the nation is living through “dangerous times,” and warning of dire consequences if U.S. voters stay on the sidelines in November.

Obama V. Trump

While Obama returns to the public eye, Trump is undertaking a heavy schedule of appearances on behalf of Republican candidates as his party girds for the possibility of losing its House majority. It’s creating a rare display for voters of a past president working directly against a successor.

Trump held rallies in North Dakota and Montana last week. Scheduled events in Missouri and Mississippi this week have been canceled with the approach of Hurricane Florence.

Other ex-presidents have shied away from criticizing their successors. For that matter, previous incumbents typically haven’t criticized their predecessors in direct terms.

Obama hopes to help Democrats flip Republican House seats up and down California, from San Diego in the south to Modesto in the Central Valley, more than 400 miles to the north. That includes traditionally conservative-leaning Orange County, where Saturday’s rally was held and where former President Richard Nixon cut his political teeth in the 1940s.

Those districts are central to Democratic prospects of securing the House. Obama is likely to be less helpful in Senate races playing out in states Trump won handily, including Indiana, West Virginia and North Dakota.

In the coming week, the former president is scheduled to campaign in Cleveland on behalf of Richard Cordray’s campaign for Ohio governor. Cordray is a former Obama appointee who was director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the federal watchdog agency now being overhauled by Trump’s administration.

The race between Cordray and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is rated as a tossup by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. It’s playing out in a state Trump won by eight percentage points.

(An earlier version corrected the name of the House candidate absent from the rally.)

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