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Obama tells rally in Chicago: ‘The character of our nation is on the ballot’

Video by Ashlee Rezin | Former President Barack Obama headlines a Get Out The Vote rally and campaigns for Illinois gubernatoria

Ten years to the day of being elected president, former President Barack Obama came home Sunday to turn out voters for the Illinois Democratic ticket, mixing the message of hope that propelled him to the White House with an urgent call to repel President Donald Trump’s divisiveness, though Obama did not use his name.

Sunday marked the last of a series of rallies Obama was headlining for Democrats, with the former president pumping up Indiana Democrats in Gary before hitting the University of Illinois at Chicago Pavilion, 525 S. Racine Ave.

A very hoarse Obama said, “Hope is still out there. We just have to stand up and speak for it. And in two days, Illinois, in two days, you get to vote in what might be the most important election of my lifetime, maybe more important than 2008.”

“…America is at a crossroads right now. There is a contest of ideas that is going on, about who we are and what kind of country we are going to be.

“Health care for millions is on the ballot.

“A fair shake for working families is on the ballot.

“And most importantly, the character of our nation is on the ballot.”

“When you vote, when you participate in the political process, you can be a check on bad behavior,” Obama said.

While former presidents often stay in the political background for a few years after leaving office, the Trump-led attacks on Obama’s legacy drew him back onto the campaign trail. Republicans, said Obama, are “blatantly, repeatedly, baldly, shamelessly lying.” And the Trump administration, which promised to “clean the swamp,” instead, Obama said, “racked up enough indictments to field a football team.”

At the end of the rally the entire ticket joined hands on stage: Democratic governor candidate J.B. Pritzker, his running mate, Juliana Stratton; Attorney general hopeful Kwame Raoul; Comptroller Susana Mendoza; Treasurer Mike Frerichs and House hopefuls Sean Casten and Lauren Underwood. The picture of unity was a sharp contrast to the fractured GOP ticket let by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Grammy- and Academy Award-winning rapper and actor Common energized the crowd earlier in the event.

“Hey everybody, I’m from the South Side of Chicago,” Common said.

Long lines of people stood outside the pavilion Sunday despite the rain.

Gubernatorial candidate Pritzker took the stage before Obama spoke to say “hatred and misogyny should have no place in America.” He told the crowd, “This election is about what Illinois can be.”

Raoul told the crowd, “I’m a proud son of Haitian immigrants who did not come from [a] s-hole,” referencing reports of President Donald Trump’s disparaging remarks about immigration from several countries earlier this year. “I am a birthright baby,” Raoul said.

Comptroller and likely Chicago mayoral contender Susana Mendoza called herself at the rally “your truth-telling fiscal watchdog who is not afraid to stand up to Bruce Rauner.”

Getting big cheers early in the rally: U.S. House hopeful Lauren Underwood, the nurse running against GOP Rep. Randy Hultgren. Underwood and Sean Casten, challenging Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., have turned these races in GOP territory into toss-ups.

Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin told the crowd at UIC the election Tuesday is about “saying no to hate and fear we hear from this president every day.”

Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth delivered a stemwinder at the rally: On Tuesday, be there to “say no to [President Trump], say no to [Gov. Bruce Rauner,]” and say no to a “petulant schoolyard bully of a president.” Both Durbin and Duckworth have been on the Illinois road for Democrats. Neither are up for re-election this year.

Illinois Democratic Party chair Michael Madigan was not attending the rally, sources say. But Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel did show up backstage, according to a source who said he and Obama “chatted about midterm expectations, what they are hearing about races around the county and about the Obama Presidential Center.”

Rauner hits the trail

Rauner is looking to boost GOP turnout with stops Sunday in Decatur; Gibson City; Morris, and St. Charles. While the Illinois Democratic ticket is united, the GOP contenders are not stumping together in the final days of the campaign.

Early voting ends Monday.

Ten years ago, Chicagoans filled Grant Park to celebrate then-Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., becoming the first African-American president. Today, Democrats are pushing to reclaim some of the power they lost with the surprise win of President Donald Trump in 2016.

The election season is winding up with Trump and Obama holding dueling events to turn out their respective base votes.

Obama has been on the stump for embattled Democrats. Before coming home to Chicago, Obama is leading an Indiana turnout rally for Sen. Joe Donnelly, one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats. While Indiana is heavily Republican, northwest Indiana is a Democratic stronghold.

Obama, who used an absentee ballot to vote from his home in Kenwood, needs to jazz up turnout from Democratic stronghold Chicago for the statewide ticket.

Democrats concerned about Raoul

While Pritzker is ending his battle with Rauner well ahead in all polls, there is some concern over Raoul, who is locked in a struggle with GOP opponent Erika Harold.

Casten and Underwood, running in Republican suburban House districts, need massive Democratic turnout to beat their rivals. Casten is aiming to defeat Rep. Peter Roskam in the 6th District and Underwood wants to deny Rep. Randy Hultgren another term in the 14th district.

On Monday, the president will hold rallies in Cleveland, Fort Wayne, Ind., and Cape Girardeau, Mo.

On Sunday, Trump hits Macon, Ga., for a 3:55 p.m. rally, speaking at about the same time Obama will be on the stage at UIC. Trump has an evening rally in Chattanooga, Tenn., and stumps in Ft. Wayne on Monday.

Take a look back at this day, 10 years ago, when Barack Obama was elected president: