Former President Barack Obama returned to the campaign trail on Thursday for the first time since his departure from the White House.
Though he has rarely spoken out about politics in the past nine months, Obama said it was critical that supporters got out to vote, and called on voters to fight against the growing political division that was tainting American democracy.
Obama attended campaign rallies in New Jersey and Virginia and asked voters to send a powerful message by backing Democrats in the upcoming Nov. 7th elections in the two states.
“What we can’t have is the same old politics of division that we have seen so many times before, that dates back centuries."
“Some of the politics we see now, we thought we put that to bed. That’s folks looking 50 years back. It’s the 21st century, not the 19th century,” he said.
At the rally in Richmond, Virginia, Obama said modern politics was not reflecting basic American values of inclusiveness and was doing the opposite by driving people away from the process.
“We’ve got folks who are deliberately trying to make folks angry, to demonize people who have different ideas, to get the base all riled up because it provides a short-term tactical advantage. Sometimes that feels frustrating,” Obama said.
“I don’t know if you all noticed that, but you can’t take any election for granted,” he said in a reference to Hillary Clinton’s surprising loss to Donald Trump in the presidential race last year.
Though Obama never said President Trump's name formally, his comments at the rallies appeared to be passively directed at Trump.
Since leaving the White House in January, Obama frequently has been forced to defend his record as Trump and the Republicans have tried to demolish his healthcare laws and immigration and environmental policies.
Former President George W. Bush, a Republican, also took an indirect shot at Trump with a speech denouncing “bullying and prejudice” while defending immigrants and trade.
Obama’s rallies hope to increase Democratic turnout in New Jersey and Virginia. The two states are the only ones holding elections for governor this year.
Democrats are hoping that Obama can bring young minorities and infrequent voters that were strong during his two elections out to the polls in these upcoming elections.
The two state elections will be closely watched to see if Democrats can convert Trump's influence into electoral wins after falling short earlier the year in four competitive congressional elections.