Former President Barack Obama delivered a punishing rebuke of his successor Donald Trump’s tenure and a clarion call to supporters for his old running mate Joe Biden at a drive-in rally outside Citizens Bank Park as the sun set Wednesday night.
Trump’s tone and the misinformation he spreads have poisoned American political discourse, Obama said on his first day stumping for Biden on the 2020 campaign trail.
“It affects how our children see things, and it affects the way our families get along," Obama said as supporters cheered and hundreds of drivers slammed their horns in support. "It affects how the world looks at America. That behavior matters. Character matters.”
Elections, Obama said, are about voters asking themselves if they’re better off than they were four years ago.
“Four years ago you’d be tailgating here at the Linc instead of watching a speech from your cars," Obama said from a podium with Lincoln Financial Field behind him. “Philadelphia, we got 13 days. That’s our lucky number — 13 days until the most important election of our entire lifetime.”
Biden, he said, is ready for the presidency because of his experience in the Obama administration.
“For eight years, Joe was the last one in the room when I faced a big decision," Obama said. "He made me a better president. And he’s got the character and experience to make us a better country.”
Obama’s visit came on a day when a Quinnipiac University survey found Biden leading Trump by 8 percentage points, 51%-43%, among likely voters in Pennsylvania, with 5% undecided. Results from the survey, conducted Oct. 16-19, were down from a 13-point lead the former vice president held in a Quinnipiac poll taken after the first presidential debate. But they were broadly in line with other surveys that have shown Biden consistently holding a lead of high single digits in the key battleground state.
Biden, meanwhile, voiced support for muting the candidates' microphones if they speak after their allotted time on Thursday, when the last face-off between candidates is scheduled to occur. Trump previously called the rule change “very unfair.”
The campaign’s decision to send Obama first to Philadelphia signals how important the state — and Black turnout in its largest city — is to Biden.
Although African American voters overwhelmingly favor Biden, the Democrat has polled comparatively worse with young Black men than with women.
That could partly be because Trump has made it part of his reelection campaign to appeal to Black male voters.
Wednesday evening in South Philadelphia, supporters decorated cars with Biden flags and impromptu line dances broke out before the program began. The event was not open to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic, and was attended only by people who received tickets through the Biden campaign. It was livestreamed on the Biden campaign’s website.
For 45 minutes Obama called Trump a failure on the coronavirus, health care, and the environment.
“Joe is not going to screw up testing,” Obama said. “He’s not going to call scientists idiots. He’s not going to host a superspreader event at the White House.”
The crowd stood outside their cars or sat on roofs, phones outstretched.
A main theme of the evening from Obama and the speakers before him was increase voting in a city already known for high Democratic turnout. Mayor Jim Kenney told the crowd, “Good things are gonna happen in Philadelphia on Nov. 3,” a reference to Trump’s comment that bad things happen in the city.
State Rep. Joanna McClinton, who represents parts of Philadelphia and Delaware Counties, implored people to get everyone they know to vote. “Since democracy is on the line, we need a Philly Special,” she said. “We need a landslide.”
Obama, known for his campaigns centered on hope and change, left the crowd with a message of both.
“America is a good and decent place, but we’ve just seen so much noise and nonsense that sometimes it’s hard for us to remember,” he said.
”Philadelphia, I’m asking you to remember what this country can be. What it’s like when we treat each other with respect and dignity. We’ve got to vote like never before."
Obama has used Philadelphia as the setting for major speeches in the past. In 2008, during his first White House run, he delivered a high-profile address on race and equality at the Constitution Center. And during this year’s Democratic National Convention, which was held virtually due to the pandemic, Obama’s speech was broadcast live from the Museum of the American Revolution.
Before his speech at the Phillies' stadium, Obama made an unannounced stop at the Hank Gathers Recreation Center on Diamond Street in North Philadelphia. There, he met with community organizers and Democratic elected officials from Philadelphia, including U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, State Sen. Sharif Street, State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, and City Councilman Isaiah Thomas, who are all African American men.
"It is always great to be in Philadelphia, in part because this reminds me of home back in Chicago,” Obama said at the forum. “When I see what’s going on here, it’s no different than on the South Side or the West Side of Chicago. We’re confronting the same challenges.”
Asked how community leaders can engage young people who feel disconnected to the political process, Obama said: “To acknowledge to them voting alone isn’t going to change everything, because young people are sophisticated, so there’s no point in overhyping what happens." Instead, he said, it’s important to show them that change is possible over time, and that voting is critical to making it happen.
“The truth is I’m very proud of my presidency, but it didn’t immediately solve systemic racism. … What I always tell young people is we did make things better," Obama said. “One of the biggest tricks that’s perpetrated on the America people is this idea that government is separated from you. The government is us — of, by, and for the people. It wasn’t always for all of us. But the way it’s designed, it works for who is at the table. And if you do not vote, you’re not at the table."