ATLANTA — Former President Obama accused President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump concerned Zinke broke rules amid DOJ referral: report 1,600 scientists sign letter opposing Trump’s plan to narrow gender definition Five Takeaways from West Virginia’s Senate debate MORE of engaging in a “political stunt” by pledging to send troops to the border in response to a migrant caravan at a packed Friday evening rally.
The critique came as part of a full-throated attack on his successor that avoided mentioning Trump by name.
Obama poured scorn on the suggestion that “the biggest threat to America — the biggest threat! — is some impoverished refugees a thousand miles away.”
He repeatedly complained about Trump’s propensity to make false claims, drily noting, “I believe in fact-based campaigns.”
Obama also made a broader case against the man who succeeded him in the White House, blaming Trump — implicitly but clearly — for fomenting racial, social and religious tensions.
There had been, Obama said, “incessant, non-stop attempts to divide us with rhetoric that is designed to make us angry and make us fearful…to pit us against one another, to try to make us believe that things would be better if it just weren’t for those who don’t look like us, or don’t pray for us, or don’t love like us.”
His remarks were met with a euphoric reaction from a young, largely black crowd that filled a 6,000-capacity basketball arena at Morehouse College to capacity.
But about 550 miles away, in Indianapolis, Trump was also on the campaign trail, firing up his own base in his own way.
“The Democrats want to invite caravan after caravan, and you see we have more caravans forming, don’t you?,” Trump said, according to pool reports.
Obama came to Atlanta to boost Stacey Abrams, the Democrat who is aiming to become the nation’s first black female governor. Her Republican opponent is Georgia’s secretary of State, Brian Kemp.
The race looks to be one of the tightest major contests in the nation.
A new poll released Friday morning by the Atlanta Journal Constitution and Channel 2 Action News, conducted by the University of Georgia found the race tied, with both candidates on approximately 47 percent.
In the RealClearPolitics (RCP) polling average, Kemp had a one-point edge on Friday afternoon. Data and prediction site FiveThirtyEight also puts the state firmly in toss-up range, giving Kemp a 58 percent chance of prevailing to Abram’s 42 percent.
The national focus of the race has also brought a flood of money. The Journal Constitution reported on Thursday that this year’s contest is the most lucratively-financed gubernatorial race in the state’s history, which each major party candidate raising more than $20 million.
On Thursday, Oprah Winfrey appeared with Abrams and also did some door-to-door canvassing, startling residents who unexpectedly found themselves face to face with the legendary talk show host. Vice President Pence campaigned the same day for Kemp. He alleged that Abrams was being “bankrolled by Hollywood liberals.”
There was an added splash of celebrity on Friday night at the Obama rally, with comedian Chris Tucker among those in attendance. Tucker was immediately mobbed by a crowd combing reporters and fans. He largely restricted himself to straightforward professions of support for Abrams, whom he said was more authentic and “real” than most politicians.
Abrams, whose primary victory was widely seen as victory for the left wing of the Democratic Party, emphasized her ability to work across the aisle in her own speech here, which also stressed the importance of affordable health care.
But it was Obama’s enormous appeal to the Democrat base that brought out the crowds and raised the volume to at times ear-splitting levels at the historically black university that counts Dr. Martin Luther King among its alumni.
The nation’s first black president — his voice raspy and at times faint — connected the current political climate to the struggles of the civil rights era. Rep. John LewisJohn LewisThe legacy of one Sears president to the black community John Lewis: I’ve had my skull fractured for the right to vote, ‘vote like you’ve never voted before’ The Hill’s Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Trump, Pence fan out to protect the Rust Belt MORE (D-Ga.) an icon of those struggles, was among the speakers at Friday evening’s rally.
“John Lewis didn’t sit back and say,‘Man, I hope some day things get better.’ It happened because some people marched, some people mobilized, some people organized,” Obama said. “And when they won the right to vote, people voted to make a better history.”
Voting rights are one of the major issues in the Abrams-Kemp race.
The fact that Kemp oversees elections in his role as secretary of State has attracted adverse criticism in the state and beyond.
Abrams and former President Jimmy Carter — himself a former Georgia governor — have called on Kemp to resign. Carter wrote in a letter that Kemp’s position meant that “popular confidence is threatened” in relation to the election’s integrity.
Further fueling the controversy, 53,000 voter registration applications are on hold, according to an Associated Press report, under the state’s “exact match” law which demands registrations precisely match other government documents.
Critics contend such measures unfairly impede people from voting. The AP reported approximately 70 percent of the on-hold applications were from black voters, who overall would be expected to skew Democratic. Kemp denies any ulterior motive and casts his efforts as intended to preserve election integrity.
Either way, the Peach State is one of many where early-voting turnout jumped from that of the last midterm elections, in 2014. Roughly 1.6 million early ballots have been accepted or returned, according to figures collated by the United States Election Project, whereas just over 1 million advance ballots were case in 2014
Many of the attendees here said they had already cast their ballots.
One, Mandy Simmons, said that although she was a Democrat, she crossed party lines to vote for Republican Nathan Deal for governor four years ago.
She would not be doing so for Kemp, she said, in part because she took exception to one of his TV commercials which played up his opposition to gun control.
“It was a turn off,” Simmons told The Hill.
She also said that her distaste for Trump was one reason why her Democratic allegiance had hardened. His antics, she said, had made the United States a “laughing stock” internationally.
Lindsey Meyers, another attendee and Atlanta resident, had been drawn to the rally mostly because it would be her first opportunity to see President Obama in person, she said.
Like Simmons, she said had already voted for Abrams — in her case because she believes her to be “more down to earth and for working people” than her opponent.
Meyers said that, despite the GOP disposition of the state, she believed Abrams could pull out a victory by energizing young voters, in particular.
“I think a lot of people are voting for the first time who have never voted before, particularly young people,” she said.
With the race on a knife-edge, Georgia Democrats will be hoping that Obama’s appearance might be enough to put Abrams over the top.
But the proxy war will continue over the weekend. Trump will campaign in Macon on Sunday.