Former President Barack Obama made his first appearance in Arizona this election cycle on Wednesday to rally support for the Democratic ticket and asked voters from all parties to reject Trump endorsees.
With only six days to go before voting ends, Obama other speakers stressed that Trump-endorsed candidates are extreme and dangerous to democracy.
“Kari Lake actually interviewed me,” Obama said, referring to the GOP gubernatorial candidate’s time as a newscaster. “At the time I don’t remember thinking she was the kind of person who would push debunked Covid remedies. … I guess that stuff came later because she found it convenient.”
Obama, who spoke for an hour, repeatedly criticized the Trump slate, mentioned Biden only once, and took time to vocalize his support for each statewide Democrat candidate.
“Katie, she may not be flashy … but she’s serious about her work,” he said of Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate.
In recent weeks, polls for the governor’s race show Lake in a dead heat with Hobbs, or in some cases, up by several points.
Obama reminisced about his first presidential campaign, a time when he said it was easier to have a discourse with people in different parties. After a screaming protestor interrupted Obama’s speech and was dragged out, he spoke about the hateful discourse and lack of civility he believes is growing. He spoke about the recent attack on Paul Pelosi and warned against the danger of officials who “continue to promote over-the-top rhetoric, or at least ignore it, or make light out of it.”
In the time when he was first running, Obama said that no one would accept candidates like Lake and U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters, who he accused of lying to people.
He called them “Politicians who seem to be willing to do or say anything to be able to gain power.”
He said that in today’s Republican party, the focus seems to be on “owning the libs” and getting Trump’s approval.
While Lake made her endorsement by former President Donald Trump the center of her campaign, Democrats have largely kept Obama and President Joe Biden out of their campaigns.
The Democrats chose a small venue, the gymnasium of Cesar Chavez High School in Phoenix. The gym’s capacity is only 1,600 and was filled to more than 1,800 with around 600 people outside unable to squeeze in.
The speakers began around 6:30 p.m. Obama spoke more about Sen. Mark Kelly than any other candidates but mentioned most of the Democrats running for statewide office. After his speech, Obama did not take questions from the press.
Other Democrat speakers included state party chair Raquel Terán, Secretary of State candidate Adrian Fontes, Attorney General candidate Kris Mayes, Kelly, former Rep. Gabby Giffords, Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, Corporation Commissioner Sandra Kennedy, Rep. Ruben Gallego and Hobbs. Absent from the rally and from the entire Hobbs campaign was Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-AZ.
“It’s a choice between sanity and chaos,” Hobbs said, repeating a tagline that her campaign has used several times. “I’ve never lost an election and I don’t intend to start now.”
Every candidate brought up abortion and their support for abortion rights. Election denialism was another star talking point.
“He [Masters] wants a national abortion ban that is so strict that even when a woman is raped, she will not be able to make this decision themselves. Blake Masters wants to make this decision for Arizona women,” Kelly said, riling up the audience.
Republican Mesa Mayor John Giles also spoke in favor of the Democratic candidates and against Lake.
“She’ll spend more time travelling to Mar-a-Lago than to Mesa,” he said of Lake. He didn’t mention Hobbs but did talk up Kelly. “I hope someday I can cheer for Republican candidates again, but not these ones,” Giles said.
Lake held a competing tele-rally with Trump and Masters at the same time Obama spoke. Trump has endorsed several candidates for the last few years at all levels.
Obama lost Arizona in both of his Presidential campaigns, but Democrats hope that he can appeal to the moderates and independents Hobbs needs to push her over the edge.
National Democrats are involved in Arizona’s tight races, but mainly show their support with money. Democratic candidates are supported by millions of dollars from national groups, and Republicans are being targeted by the same actors.
Biden hasn’t endorsed any Arizona candidates since Sinema in 2018. Hobbs did not answer questions from the Arizona Capitol Times about why Sinema is not more involved with her campaign but said that Sinema is voting for Hobbs. Casting a ballot is below the minimum in such a tight race where Hobbs needs all the support she can get.
Democratic consultants Rodd McLeod and Matt Grodsky said that it’s normal for a president to stay out of the election fray in a midyear election. Biden is bashed by Republicans for inflation that is hitting Arizona particularly hard. Phoenix inflation was up to 13% as of September, meaning Biden’s absence from Arizona is not a hindrance, and may be a necessity. Biden made no endorsements of Arizona candidates this year.
Obama made a handful of endorsements in 2020, but he hasn’t been very vocal in his support of 2022 Democratic candidates until now.
“Most GOP politicians they’re not even pretending that the rules apply to them. They seem to be willing to just make stuff up,” Obama said. He asked whether these issues don’t override party labels. “To people who aren’t in this auditorium: why would you vote for somebody who you know is not telling the truth?”