Obama vs Trump

Obama makes a final push for Democrats while Trump airs his grievances in Pennsylvania

Two former presidents take drastically different approaches in final days of midterms in Keystone State, Eric Garcia reports from Pittsburgh

Sunday 06 November 2022 14:44 GMT
Democratic gubernatorial candidate for Pennsylvania Josh Shapiro, former President Barack Obama, President Joe Biden, and Senate candidate John Fetterman participate in a rally ahead of the midterm elections
Democratic gubernatorial candidate for Pennsylvania Josh Shapiro, former President Barack Obama, President Joe Biden, and Senate candidate John Fetterman participate in a rally ahead of the midterm elections (AFP via Getty Images)

Barack Obama and Donald Trump could not be more different politicians. In 2011, Mr Trump floated running for president by promoting the lie that the first Black president was not born in the United States of America.

As a result, the two former presidents took completely different approaches to campaigning in Southwestern Pennsylvania on Saturday. Mr Obama held his rally at Schenley Plaza across the street from the University of Pennsylvania as he stumped for Democratic Senate nominee John Fetterman.

Later, the former president, who won Pennsylvania in 2008 and 2012, would head to the other side of the state where he rallied with president Joe Biden, a native of Scranton, and attorney general Josh Shapiro, the Democratic nominee for governor.

Shortly thereafter, Mr Trump, who shocked election observers when he became the first Republican nominee to win Pennsylvania since George H W Bush did in 1988, campaigned in nearby Latrobe in Westmoreland County, where 63.6 per cent of voters backed him in 2020 despite him losing the state.

Mr Trump was ostensibly there to stump for Mr Fetterman’s opponent, celebrity physician Mehmet Oz, and right-wing state Senator Doug Mastriano.

While Mr Obama seemed to save his energy for pushing for Democrats, Mr Trump committed to his normal routine of complaining about the 2020 presidential election, decrying the federal government targeting his supporters and complaining about Republicans who were insufficiently loyal to him.

That isn’t to say that Mr Trump did not get in barbs for Mr Fetterman, who seems to specifically enrage the former president, mainly on crime and in the past, he accused him of taking illegal drugs. Indeed, one attendee at Mr Fetterman’s rally sported one of his shirts that said “Trump is a jagoff”, an insult local to Pittsburgh.

Similarly, Mr Trump mocked the size of the crowd of Mr Obama and Mr Fetterman’s rally, which Mr Fetterman’s communications director tweeted had 7,500 people.

Trump rails against media, Jan 6 committee and Nancy Pelosi during Pennsylvania rally

“It looked like a crowd of 200 people,” he said addressing Mr Mastriano, who is lagging behind Mr Shapiro in most polls. “But we have 10s of 1000s of people here if these people vote for you, and if they vote for you. You can't lose.”

But immediately afterward, he pivoted to talking about the FBI executing a search warrant on his Palm Beach home.

“We have a weaponized Department of Justice and weaponized FBI including, of course, the raid on Mar-a-Lago, my beautiful house, the raid on Mar-a-Lago, the document hoax case, violating my fourth amendment rights like nobody's ever been violated before,” he told the crowd.

When speaking about Dr Oz, the retired physician and television host whom Mr Trump endorsed and boosted out of the primary, Mr Trump couldn’t help but also make the speech about retiring Republican Senator Pat Toomey.

Mr Toomey never got fully behind Mr Trump, only saying he voted for him in 2016 on Election Day and then Mr Toomey voted to convict him for his role in the 6 January riot. Specifically he also criticised Mr Toomey for not wanting to levy tariffs against China.

“And by the way, he is so much better than the Senator that he's replacing,” he said. “This guy is like ten times better than Toomey.”

Conversely, Mr Obama poked fun at how most Republicans care mostly about two things.

“They want to own the libs,” he said. “’Let’s get the libs. And let’s get Donald Trump’s approval’.”

Part of the divide is rooted in the fact that as a president who served the maximum allowed two terms, Mr Obama’s political career is in the rearview mirror. Thus, he is mostly focused on boosting younger Democratic candidates, specifically after the midterms in 2010 and 2014 wiped out many younger Democrats and prevented the party from building a bench.

Conversely, Mr Trump is very much focused not just on remaking the Republican Party in his own image, but also electing Republicans who would support him for a prospective third White House run. During the sole Pennsylvania Senate debate, Dr Oz said he would support another run by Mr Trump for president.

Similarly, Mr Trump also seemed to fire his first barb when he touted a poll that showed that 71 per cent of Republican voters preferred him to be the 2024 nominee compared to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

“Ron DeSanctimonious at 10 per cent,” he said. Mr DeSantis largely won the Republican nomination for governor thanks to ingratiating himself to the Trump base, appearing regularly on Fox News and an ad featuring his child where he built a version of Mr Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico.

But as Mr DeSantis has become popular with Republican donors and large parts of the GOP base, Mr Trump has started to see him as a potential threat.

Conversely, Mr Obama largely kept his focus on highlighting not just Mr Fetterman and Mr Shapiro, but also downballot Democrats such congressional candidates Summer Lee and Chris DeLuzio, who are running in Pennsylvania’s 12th and 17th

“John’s stroke did not change who he is,” Mr Obama said. “It didn't change what he cares about. It is his values, his heart, his fight.”

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