Former President Barack Obama is set to break his post-White House seclusion this week as he hits the campaign trail in support of Democratic candidates running for federal and state positions this November.
Obama’s midterm campaign will kick off with a speech this Friday at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he will “echo his call to reject the rising strain of authoritarian politics and policies,” says Katie Hill, his communications director. “And he will preview arguments he’ll make this fall, specifically that Americans must not fall victim to our own apathy by refusing to do the most fundamental thing demanded of us as citizens: vote.”
But for some Democrats, support from Obama is something of a liability.
“Surrogates are fine but we don’t need them,” says Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), whose state in 2016 overwhelmingly voted for Trump over Hillary. “The race is myself and Matt Rosendale and that’s the way we want to keep it.”
The primary concern for Democratic Senators running in red states is that support from Obama will fire up Trump’s voter base and lead to increased turnout on the other side. Other candidates worry that support from Obama could harm their chances of attracting Independent voters.
The former concern is probably why Obama has eschewed Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who represents a state Trump won by 8 points in 2016.
When asked, Brown said he had ‘no idea’ why his name was missing from the former president’s endorsement list. “I’d love for him to come to Ohio and help us with voter turnout for Cordray and for me,” said Brown, referring to gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray.
Obama did not weigh in on Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill’s race against GOP Attorney General Josh Hawley in Missouri, nor did he endorse Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly in his contest with former state lawmaker Mike Braun in Indiana.
And while Obama has formally endorsed two House candidates and three state House candidates in Pennsylvania, he has refrained from endorsing Senator Bob Casey (D-PA).
“Both of those senators are doing well [with] their respective states and they don’t exactly need Obama’s seal of approval,” said one strategist, referring to Sherrod and Casey. “Obama is still popular with certain folks in those states but he’s not exactly popular with some others.”
Sources close to Obama have suggested that he is not finished announcing his endorsements and that he does have plans to campaign with Casey in Pennsylvania – a state Trump won by less than 1 point in 2016.
“We look forward to campaigning with him, we hope, in the fall,” said Casey, adding that Obama seems to be prioritizing local races in order to give the party more influence in 2020 congressional redistricting.
The midterm elections, which take place November 6th, will decide control of the House, Senate, and more than 30 gubernatorial contests.