ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA — Former President Obama made his first campaign stop of the midterm elections in Orange County, California Saturday to stump for seven Democratic House candidates running in districts currently held by Republicans but that Hillary Clinton won in 2016.
About 750 people attended the event at Anaheim Convention Center, where Obama delivered a short speech centered on unity and the “politics of hope.” And, after a story about getting kicked out of Disneyland when he was caught smoking in the Magic Kingdom after a concert as a teenager, Obama issued an impassioned critique of Trump and the state of American democracy and encouraged the crowd to back the candidates he came to support.
Obama is wilding out, sharing an anecdote about how he and his friends smoked cigarettes while they were getting kicked out of Disneyland during a trip to California to see Kool and the Gang pic.twitter.com/f8AxEGyAWT
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 8, 2018
“We are bound by the notion that this is a government of, and by, and for the people… This is a government for everybody. It’s not for sale. That’s what we believe in,” he said.
He added later, “The biggest threat to our democracy, I said yesterday: it’s not one individual, it’s not one big super PAC billionaire – it’s apathy, it’s indifference. It’s us not doing what we’re supposed to do.”
The former president praised the candidates he came to Orange County to stump for: Gil Cisneros, who is running in the 39th district; Katie Porter, a candidate in the 45th; Harley Rouda in the 48th; Mike Levin in the 49th; Josh Harder in the 10th; TJ Cox in the 21st; and Katie Hill in the 25th.
“What they understood is the stakes are high in this election,” Obama said of the group. “The fact is that if we don’t step up, things can get worse. When there is a vacuum in our democracy, when we are not participating… other voices fill the void. The good news is, in two months, we have a chance to restore some sanity in our politics.”
— Mike Levin (@MikeLevinCA) September 8, 2018
Ahead of Obama’s remarks, two Republicans took the podium, Katherine Amoukhteh and Duraid Antone, to say they are supporting Democrats in the midterms.
“There is no shame in being a Republican, but there is shame in letting this political climate continue,” Amoukhteh said.
A few minutes later, Antone, a veteran who said he was a registered Republican when he voted for Obama, spoke about his support for Rouda, who’s running against longtime conservative lawmaker Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA).
In these historically Republican-leaning districts, some Democrats hope they can convince Republicans to abandon their party this fall. In his speech Saturday, Obama said he wants to win over independent voters and even some Republicans — especially those who don’t recognize their own party anymore.
But as the old cliche goes, it all comes down to turnout, and attendees Saturday said victory in November hinges on turning out voters who have been less active in past elections — and the hope that Obama can help bring people to the polls.
“[We have to] get the vote out. Huge,” Callae Walcott, who lives in the 25th district, where Katie Hill is running, told ThinkProgress as she waited to go inside the convention center. “The midterms are so important and it’s important to fire up and take every action possible to support the candidates running.”
Another woman, Nadine Breslo, stood outside the convention center with a “Take back Orange County” sign as three anti-abortion protesters stood behind her with a megaphone proclaiming that Obama is a “jackass.”
— David Siders (@davidsiders) September 8, 2018
“I am not happy with the way that our country is and when President Obama was our president, I felt safe. I felt comfortable. I think Donald Trump is a fascist. I think if he had his way he would be like Saddam Hussein,” Breslo, who lives in the 49th district, said. “I think that he is a psychopath. I think that he was involved… with the Russians in voting. That’s a sacred thing in our country. That is a traitor. That’s a Benedict Arnold.”
Though Breslo couldn’t get a ticket into the event, she said she wanted to come down to the convention center anyway. Having Obama in the area, she said, was “wonderful.”
“I thought of all presidents, if I could see him, I would cry,” she added.
Outside the convention center, a small handful of protesters in Trump regalia milled around as a long line filed into the ballroom. One man who refused to share his name because of “too much trouble with antifa,” was clad in a Make America Great Again hat and carrying a poster board sign proclaiming that Trump was “winning.”
“I’ve hit all the protests,” he said. “Comey, I went downtown, protested Comey. Protested Michelle — I mean, Maxine Waters. Whenever the politicians cross a bright red line, I’m there. I’m right there.”
And Obama calling out Trump during a speech Friday was over the line, he said.
“He should be off in retirement, enjoying himself,” he said. “I think it’s disrespectful of us, the people.”
But the main message he wanted to send, the protester said, was that “Trump is where the winning is at.”
“They’re gonna fall asleep in there, like they did yesterday,” he said. “Out here is where the winning is at. For the world.”
But inside, as one ex-president likes to say, people were fired up.
After speaking for about 20 minutes, Obama closed his speech, saying, “I absolutely confident these candidates are going to win,” as the crowd erupted. Then, three times he called to the crowd, “Are you ready to get to work?” And three times, the crowd called back enthusiastically, “Yes!”