Barack Obama gets a midterm do-over to help boost Democrats

ATLANTA — Barack Obama is trying to do something he couldn’t during two terms as president: help Democrats succeed in national midterm elections when they already hold the White House.

Of course, Obama is more popular than he was back then, and now it’s President Joe Biden, his former vice president, who faces the prospects of a November rebuke.


Obama begins a hopscotch across battleground states Friday in Georgia, and he will travel Saturday to Michigan and Wisconsin, followed by stops next week in Nevada and Pennsylvania.

The itinerary, which includes rallies with Democratic candidates for federal and state offices, comes as Biden and Democrats try to stave off a strong Republican push to upend Democrats’ narrow majorities in the House and Senate and claim key governorships ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

Several thousand Georgia voters waited in slow security lines late Friday afternoon near the Atlanta airport to get into Obama’s rally alongside Sen. Raphael Warnock, whose race against Republican Herschel Walker will help determine Senate control, and Stacey Abrams, who is challenging Gov. Brian Kemp in a rematch from 2018.

With Biden’s job approval ratings in the low 40s amid sustained inflation, he’s an albatross for Democrats like Warnock and fellow Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, of Nevada. But party strategists see Obama as having extensive reach even in a time of hyperpartisanship and economic uncertainty.

“Obama occupies a rare place in our politics today,” said David Axelrod, who helped shape Obama’s campaigns from his days in the Illinois state Senate through two presidential elections. “He obviously has great appeal to Democrats. But he’s also well-liked by independent voters.”

Neither Biden nor former President Donald Trump can claim that, Axelrod and others noted, even as both men also ratchet up their campaigning ahead of the Nov. 8 elections.

“Barack Obama is the best messenger we’ve got in our party, and he’s the most popular political figure in the country in either party,” said Bakari Sellers, a South Carolina Democrat and prominent political commentator.

Obama left office in January 2017 with a 59% approval rating, and Gallup measured his post-presidential approval at 63% the following year, the last time the organization surveyed former presidents. That’s considerably higher than his ratings in 2010, when Democrats lost control of the House in a midterm election that Obama called a “shellacking.” In his second midterm election four years later, the GOP regained control of the Senate. Swimming against those historical tides, Biden traveled Thursday to Syracuse, New York, for a rare appearance in a competitive congressional district. After months of Republican attacks over inflation, he offered a closing economic argument buoyed somewhat by news of 2.6% GDP growth in the third quarter after two previous quarters of retraction.

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