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Obama wields popularity in bid to boost Democrats in battleground states

Candidates ramp up final push ahead of midterms
Candidates ramp up final push ahead of midterms 02:58

Washington — Former President Barack Obama, who famously grappled with his own party's "shellacking" in the 2010 midterm elections during his first term, is harnessing his status as a popular former president to boost Democrats in battleground states, making a slew of appearances in the final weeks of the midterm campaign in the hopes of helping Democrats retain control of Congress. 

Obama is hitting the campaign trail for Democrats in states like Wisconsin, Georgia, Michigan, Iowa, Arizona and Nevada. Mr. Biden and Obama will make a joint appearance for Senate hopeful John Fetterman and gubernatorial hopeful Josh Shapiro in Pennsylvania on Saturday, their first joint appearance of the political cycle. 

Obama is viewed favorably by 53.8% of registered voters, according to YouGov, compared to 45% for Mr. Biden, whose popularity has waned as inflation and high gas prices take a toll on Americans' budgets. Mr. Biden has traveled to some swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania and is traveling to Florida on Tuesday. But often, the trips have been to promote economic agenda items like job creation and chip manufacturing, rather than to hold rallies for specific candidates. He is attending a rally-like event with Democrats in Florida on Tuesday night. 

Asked on MSNBC's "The Sunday Show" why Obama seems to be stumping more directly for midterm candidates than Mr. Biden is, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the president has been making his case "almost every day for months" about "the choices that are at stake here." 

Last Friday night in Wisconsin, Obama stumped for Senate hopeful Mandela Barnes and Gov. Tony Evers, who both face tough races against Sen. Ron Johnson and Tim Michels. The president made light of his own troubles in public life, including "birtherism" conspiracies, but also drove home the message that Democrats can't sit on the sidelines this election. 

"The reason I'm here is simple," Obama said. "I am here to ask you to vote."

On Tuesday, Obama will be in Las Vegas for a rally with Gov. Steve Sisolak and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, before heading to Phoenix on Wednesday to campaign with Sen. Mark Kelly and Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who is vying for the governor's office in Arizona. 

Former U.S. President Obama attends a rally with Michigan Governor Whitmer
Former President Barack Obama attends a rally with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer before the midterm elections on Oct. 29, 2022. REBECCA COOK / REUTERS

Sending Obama on the campaign trail in some states rather than Mr. Biden makes sense, said Matt Grossmann, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research and professor at Michigan State University. 

"Obviously Barack Obama is more popular than Joe Biden and is remembered more fondly than his popularity at the time might indicate. And that is the common pattern," Grossmann said.

Once presidents leave office, they tend to be viewed more favorably, he added. While GOP ads this cycle mention Mr. Biden in a negative light, almost no Democratic ads mention Mr. Biden in a positive light either, Grossmann said. 

"Obama also presided over an economic recovery, so he has some, I guess, credibility on voters' top concerns," Grossmann said. "And he manages to be remembered fondly among both the sort of more liberal and younger part of the Democratic Party that might need to be motivated to participate and among the swing voters who might still be winnable for Democrats."

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