CLEVELAND (CN) – Adoring progressives were treated to a visit from former President Barack Obama when he arrived in Cleveland on Thursday night to stump for Richard Cordray, the Democratic candidate for Ohio governor.
“This election is more important than any I can remember in my lifetime,” Obama told the crowd of over 2,500 that packed the gym of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s East Professional Center. “This time it really is different. This time the stakes are higher.”
Obama’s stop in Cleveland continues his recent return to the campaign trail, which began last week with an appearance in Illinois where, for the first time since leaving office, he called out President Donald Trump by name when criticizing the current state of political affairs.
The former president may have avoided saying the name Trump at Thursday night’s campaign event for Cordray and his running mate, former U.S. Representative Betty Sutton, but he certainly did not shy away from rebuking his successor and congressional Republicans.
“This is not normal, what we’re seeing,” Obama said. “It is radical. It’s a vision that says that it’s more important for those who are currently in power to protect that power, even if it hurts the country.”
“And frankly,” he continued, “instead of being a check or a balance against this kind of behavior, what you’re seeing are Republicans in Congress bending over backward to try to shield and deflect oversight of this behavior from scrutiny and accountability and consequences.”
Obama told the crowd that on Nov. 6, “we have a chance to restore some sanity to our politics…to tip the balance of power back to the American people.”
The two-term former president even made an appeal to any independent voters or Republicans who might be watching or listening to his remarks.
“Even if you do not agree with the Democratic position, you should still cast a ballot for Rich Cordray and Betty Sutton because what’s at stake goes beyond partisan politics,” he said, to the cheers of those in attendance. “People of both parties, and people who don’t have a party affiliation, should be concerned with our current course. Should be concerned about the basic institutions of our democracy. Should want to see a restoration of honesty and decency and lawfulness to our government. Should want to see some sort of checks and balances on what’s happening right now.”
“It’s not Democratic or Republican to say that you’re not supposed to pressure the attorney general and the FBI to use the criminal justice system to punish political opponents,” the former president said in a not-so-thinly-veiled reference to Trump. “That’s not how American democracy is supposed to work.”
Whether Obama’s appeals will have the desired effect on Republicans and independent voters remains to be seen. Many GOP strategists and conservative pundits have actually welcomed Obama’s return to the campaign trail because they believe it will help to rally their base.
Obama described Cordray, a former Ohio attorney general and director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as his friend as well as a thoughtful politician who rolls up his sleeves and does the hard work without “tweeting about it.”
“Rich is somebody who has always been committed to solving problems,” Obama said. “[He’s] always been committed to making the tone of our politics a little bit better.”
He added that Cordray is kind, which doesn’t mean he’s not also tough.
“Rich represents the kind of leadership we need,” the former president continued. “After the financial crisis, he was the first attorney general in the country to go after the reckless mortgage lenders, the irresponsible actors on Wall Street. And he delivered.”
Obama added that Cordray achieved victories for seniors and veterans who were “taken advantage of by predatory lenders.”
“While he was the head of the [Consumer Financial Protection Bureau] that was looking out for us, he fought for and returned $12 billion to 30 million Americans who’d been swindled,” Obama said. “He doesn’t just talk the talk. He walks the walk.”
Obama drew a distinction between Cordray and his Republican opponent in the gubernatorial race, current Ohio Attorney General Michael DeWine, highlighting DeWine’s immediate opposition to the Affordable Care Act.
The former president said that he, Cordray and Sutton believe that affordable health care is a right, not a privilege.
“His Republican opponent voted to cut Medicare and Medicaid, voted against lowering drug prices,” he said. “On his first day as attorney general here in Ohio, he joined Republican efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act and to try to let insurance companies discriminate against folks with pre-existing conditions.”
“If he won’t fight for your health care as attorney general, how can you trust him to fight for your health care as the governor of the great state of Ohio?”
The rally concluded with the kind of optimistic message of hope that has been, and likely always will be, Obama’s calling card.
“One election won’t fix everything that needs to be fixed, but it will be a good start,” he said.