PHILADELPHIA — Former President Barack Obama is heading out on the campaign trail once again – but this time, he’s stumping for his former Vice President.
On Wednesday, Obama will be holding his first in-person 2020 campaign event for Joe Biden in Philadelphia. With less than two weeks to go until Election Day, the Keystone State is key to both candidates’ hopes for victory; its 20 electoral votes helped put President Donald Trump in the White House in 2016, going red for the first time since 1988.
Biden hopes to flip the state of his birth back to blue (recent polling averages from FiveThirtyEight and RealClearPolitics show the Democratic candidate leading his opponent), and he’s enlisting the help of one of the Democratic party’s greatest orators to do it – his former boss.
“One, without Pennsylvania, mathematically, the president has no path to 270. And two, it’s a state that is in play but the former president remains intensely popular,” Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, told Politico. “His ability to draw attention and energize is certainly unparalleled by any other Democrat.”
Obama is expected to speak about the importance of early voting and make an appeal directly to Black voters, specifically Black Men, according to the campaign, but will likely make a case like no other why the country cannot give Trump a second term.
The 44th president won Pennsylvania twice, in 2008 and 2012, in part because of record enthusiasm and turnout from Black voters.
“President Obama understands more intensely than anyone what’s at stake this election as Donald Trump has systematically attacked his legacy every day since taking office nearly four years ago,” Democratic strategist Joel Payne told The Hill.
In 2016, Obama delivered Hillary Clinton’s closing argument in the same place – at a rally for thousands the night before Election Day on Independence Mall. Now, with the coronavirus pandemic upending campaigning, Obama will be speaking to a much smaller crowd at a drive-in rally, where supporters will listen to him over the radio inside their cars.
The format reflects the challenge Democrats face in boosting enthusiasm and getting out the vote in a year when they’ve eschewed big rallies in favor of small, socially distanced events, drawing a contrast with Trump and Republicans on the coronavirus. While Obama is usually one of the party’s biggest draws and most compelling speakers, that impact may be blunted by the format.
But Democrats say that as one of the men who knows Biden best, both as his former partner in the White House and personally, Obama remains one of the party’s greatest assets in the final stretch of the campaign.
“Especially in Philadelphia, he is the ultimate draw and still a great standard-bearer for Democrats,” former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter told the Associated Press.
Obama’s visit to Philadelphia underscores the significance of Pennsylvania, the swing state Biden himself has visited the most this campaign. If Trump loses the state, his path to winning reelection narrows significantly. And Nutter said Obama’s appearance in Philadelphia would help boost the campaign’s standing with voters who sat out the last presidential election, as well as voters in the Philadelphia suburbs who supported Obama in 2008 and 2012 but switched to Trump in 2016.
“I think he helps remind people what’s at stake, what being president is about, what things could be like,” Nutter said to the AP.
Obama has already been helpful to the Biden campaign, adapting to the shift to virtual events by focusing much of his work on getting younger Americans to vote. He’s appeared on Twitch, the video game streaming platform, pushed a voter registration message on Snapchat and recorded a video for the Shade Room, a Black-owned Instagram page and media company with 21 million followers.
“President Obama has been appearing throughout the pandemic on non-traditional platforms to reach swing voters and mobilize younger voters that don’t consume political media throughout the day,” said former Obama press secretary Ben LaBolt. “He has the singular ability to credential how Vice President Biden would approach the job in the Oval Office.”
Obama and his wife, former First Lady Michelle Obama, are expected to play major roles in the rest of the 2020 election, up and down the Democratic ticket. The former president will appear in ads for critical Senate races across the country, including South Carolina, Georgia, and Maine, as well as play a major part in fundraising. The two have also cut digital spots on their Facebook pages, which Politico reports total $450,000.
The appearance will come one day after Trump’s rally in Erie, Pennsylvania, which is one of three counties in the state that flipped to Trump after voting for Obama twice.
Over 1 million people have already cast ballots in Pennsylvania, accounting for nearly 17% of their total 2016 turnout, according to the U.S. Elections Project.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.