WASHINGTON — With President Donald Trump already campaigning ahead of the November elections, Barack and Michelle Obama are jumping back in the fray to whip up Democrats — with the former president previewing his stump speech Friday at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Obama will roll out his mid-term message when he receives the Institute of Government and Public Affairs Paul H. Douglas Award for Ethics in Government at UIUC at 11 a.m.
A point this ethics award makes as Trump’s administration grapples with an avalanche of scandals and Robert Mueller’s Russia probe: Obama’s two terms were relatively scandal free.
Obama will be given the award by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. Durbin once interned for Douglas, the Illinois senator from 1949 to 1967, and Durbin’s mentor.
This Downstate Illinois turf is familiar to Obama from his 2004 Senate race and his 2008 and 2012 presidential runs.
Obama’s remarks will be on “the state of our democracy,” his communications director Katie Hill said in a statement.
The speech will be geared to domestic politics in the tumultuous Trump era, and Obama will address in a fairly pointed way the current political environment, how we got here — and the way forward.
Last Saturday, at the funeral for Sen. John McCain, Obama delivered a speech seen as a jab at Trump.
“So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse,” Obama said, “can seem small and mean and petty, trafficking in bombast and insult, in phony controversies and manufactured outrage. It’s a politics that pretends to be brave and tough, but in fact is born of fear.”
On Saturday, Obama hits Orange County, Calif., where he headlines a rally at the Anaheim Convention center to bolster seven Democrats running for House seats.
Next Thursday, Obama leads a rally in Cleveland for Ohio governor candidate Richard Cordray and other Ohio Democrats.
His stops after that will be in Pennsylvania and New York.
I asked Eric Schultz, an Obama advisor, about why Obama is showcasing his new themes in Illinois.
“We thought it was important to find a setting where President Obama can make a cogent argument outside of the candidate-specific stump speeches coming this fall,” Schultz said in an email.
“On Friday, President Obama will offer new thoughts on this moment and what it requires from the American people. He will expand upon several of the themes from his summer address, including that America is at its best when our democracy is inclusive and our citizens are engaged.
“Obama will preview arguments he’ll make this fall, specifically that Americans must not fall victim to our own apathy by refusing to do the most fundamental thing demanded of us as citizens: vote.”
I would not be surprised if Obama — as long as he is in Illinois — does some campaigning with Democratic governor nominee J.B. Pritzker. Illinois is one of the prime potential governor pick-up states.
Obama already shot a campaign video for Pritzker, who is battling GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner.
MICHELLE OBAMA’S MIDTERM PLANS
Meanwhile, former first lady Michelle Obama is taking a bit of a different approach by not directly campaigning for Democrats but doing voter registration for the midterms and beyond through the newly created “When We All Vote.” She co-chairs the group, which is run by her close allies.
The former first lady will headline rallies in Las Vegas on Sept. 23 and Miami on Sept. 28.
Chicago is scheduled to hold a “flagship” event for Michelle Obama’s group, but it’s not known yet if she or a celebrity will be on hand.
Singer-songwriter Janelle Monae, also a co-chair of “When We All Vote,” will be the draw for a rally Sept. 27 in Atlanta targeting students at three historically black universities: Morehouse, Spelman and Clark Atlanta.
“When We All Vote” is officially non-partisan, but do you really think Mrs. Obama is going out of her way to elect Republicans?
“When We All Vote” is housed in an organization called Civic Advisors, which also handles several post presidential programs Michelle Obama is involved in.
The CEO of Civic Advisors and the CEO of the “When We All Vote” initiative is the same person –– Kyle Lierman, who worked in the Obama White House for then Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett. Jarrett and Tina Tchen, former chief of staff for Michelle Obama and Pete Rouse, a former top Obama White House adviser, are on the board.
I can understand why Michelle Obama wants to be cautious in her approach to the mid-terms and not be cast as overly partisan at a time where she wants to leverage her own brand.
Michelle Obama’s book, “Becoming,” goes on sale Nov. 13 — exactly a week after election day.