Former President Barack Obama urged people to vote early, cast their ballot for Democratic nominee Joe Biden and “leave no doubt” about the outcome of the Nov. 3 election in his first public foray into the race.
Obama, speaking at a drive-in rally Wednesday evening in a parking lot at the South Philadelphia sports complex, told Biden supporters to not be complacent and put stock into polling that shows the former vice president with a significant advantage in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
“There were a whole bunch of polls last time. Didn’t work out because a whole bunch of folks stayed at home,” he said. “Not this time, not in this election.”
Cars could be heard honking in approval as Obama spoke about Biden and slammed President Donald Trump on his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, conduct on social media and other issues.
Pennsylvania is one of the few states expected to play a key role in deciding the White House, and both candidates and their surrogates have been flooding the commonwealth in recent days.
Obama arrived in Philadelphia earlier in the day and attended a roundtable discussion with community leaders at a gym in North Philadelphia. He was also seen greeting children at a canvassing event.
“Obama is campaigning for us,” Trump tweeted Thursday morning. “Every time he speaks, people come over to our side. He didn’t even want to endorse Sleepy Joe. Did so long after primaries were over!”
Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign’s communications director, in a statement before Wednesday night’s speech said Biden “is clearly not up to the rigors of campaigning for president, so he’s calling in Barack Obama as a reinforcement,”
Murtaugh went on to attack Biden’s son, Hunter, who was the subject of a controversial New York Post story published last week. The article’s allegations about the younger Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine have yet to be confirmed by other national media outlets.
Obama referenced a recent investigative report in his speech, the New York Times’ series on Trump’s taxes. He talked about an article that came out Tuesday revealing that the president maintains a bank account based in China.
“Can you imagine if I had had a secret Chinese bank account when I was running for reelection?” Obama said. “You think Fox News might have been a little concerned about that? They would have called me Beijing Barry.”
Philadelphia native Charlie “Mack” Alston, a promoter who is close with Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff, and his daughter, India, introduced Obama, who was wearing a blue button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up.
Eileen Rall, who attended the rally, described the atmosphere as “very exciting.” She got tickets through her volunteer work on the campaign of Napoleon Nelson, who is running for state representative in Montgomery County.
“He told the truth, and it was refreshing to hear him call out what needs to be called out,” Rall, 57, of Elkins Park, told Metro. “He’s such an inspiring speaker, and he didn’t pull any punches.”
At times, Obama sounded bemused by Trump’s antics, including the president’s recent effort to amplify an unfounded conspiracy theory that terrorist Osama Bin Laden is still alive.
“Think about that,” Obama said. “The president of the United States retweeted that. Imagine. What?”
His last trip to Philadelphia was in August, when he visited the National Constitution Center to deliver a speech for a Democratic National Convention that was almost entirely virtual due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We literally left this White House a pandemic playbook that would have shown them how to respond before the virus reached our shores,” Obama said. “They probably used it to, I don’t know, prop up a wobbly table somewhere. We don’t know where that playbook went.”
Obama also talked up Biden, his vice president. He called Biden “a scrappy kid from Scranton” and said he didn’t know much about the senator when he picked him as his running mate.
“I came to admire Joe as a man who has learned early on to treat everybody he meets with dignity and respect,” he said. “He made me a better president, and he has the character and experience to make us a better country.”
The former president noted that Philadelphia residents can request a mail-in ballot or fill one out and return it in-person at one of the city’s 17 satellite offices through Tuesday, Oct. 27.
“This election requires every single one of us to do their part,” Obama said. “We cannot afford four more years of this, Philadelphia.”