Former President Barack Obama joined Democratic candidates vying to take over key battleground California congressional districts in the November election in the hopes of gaining control of the House of Representatives.
Close to 1,000 Democratic Californians gathered at the Anaheim Convention Center Saturday morning to hear from Obama during his first House 2018 campaign stop. He was joined by congressional candidates Josh Harder (CA-10), TJ Cox (CA-21), Gil Cisneros (CA- 39), Katie Porter (CA-45), Harley Rouda (CA-48) and Mike Levin (CA-49). Katie Hill (CA-25) was scheduled to attend but was not present.
The California districts are seen as key congressional races for the Democratic “blue wave” aiming to take back control of the House. Hillary Clinton carried all the traditionally Republican districts during the 2016 presidential election, signaling changing demographics could likely flip the districts blue come November.
Campaign volunteers chanted “Take it back” while holding blue signs emblazoned with the phrase before Obama took the stage.
“We have an extraordinary collection of candidates that have decided to step up and bring out the best in our government,” Obama said.
The former president discussed “American values” including that we are a “government by and for the people” and that “we don’t have a situation where some are more equal than others.”
“This is a government for everybody. We’ve got candidates who represent those values. They stepped up, they’re fired up, they’re ready to go,” Obama said to a cheering room of supporters.
Obama spoke about each candidate individually, highlighting what values he believed they would bring to Congress.
Obama talked about Mike Levin, the Democratic candidate running to replace Rep. Darrell Issa, who is retiring after narrowly winning reelection in 2016 and facing weekly protests from unhappy constituents at his Vista office.
Obama highlighted the environmental attorney has “spent his career trying to protect our planet for our kids” saying Levin is “the kind of champion we need in Congress, a leader on environmental issues and a leader on climate change.”
Obama called on people to continue volunteering, making calls, knocking on doors and “talk to folks sitting on the couch who have been lazy” when it comes it going to the polls.
“The stakes are high. The fact is that if we don’t step up, things can get worse. Where there is a vacuum in our democracy, when we aren’t stepping up, other voices step forward,” Obama said.
“The good news is in two months we have the chance to restore some sanity in our politics,” he added.
The campaign stump marks Obama’s first stop in the November congressional race. His Saturday appearance follows a speech he gave Friday at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign where he suggested President Donald Trump is “capitalizing on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years.”
But without naming any names Saturday, Obama suggested “the biggest threat to our democracy is not one individual, it’s not one big super PAC, it’s apathy, it’s indifference, it’s us not doing what we are supposed to do.”
Obama said so long as people do “everything possible” before the November election “I am absolutely confident these candidates are going to win.”
Maureen Aitken, a volunteer from San Clemente with Mike Levin’s campaign, told Courthouse News the 49th Congressional District needs a candidate who “cares about the environment” because of the ongoing concerns over storing nuclear waste on the beach at the shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station which sits inside the district.
“I’m not a super political person, but given the current climate and everything Obama was saying it is time to get up and talk about what values I have,” Aitken said. “I didn’t want to be that person complaining and not doing anything.”
Encinitas resident Nancy Hardwick, another volunteer with Levin’s campaign, said she believed changing demographics in the district, including “young families who are well-educated and informed” is what will contribute to flipping the seat blue.
Hardwick has been volunteering with the campaign a year and a half and said she knocks on 20 to 50 doors a day to talk to voters.
“People are so fed up with Washington,” Hardwick said.
Absent from the stage but in attendance was Ammar Campa-Najjar, as a guest of President Obama, the Democrat running against District 50 U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, who has been indicted in a campaign finance case, along with his wife and campaign manager Margaret Hunter, for alleged misuse of $250,000 in campaign funds.
A recent poll showed Hunter was still likely to win reelection in November, though independent voters seem on the fence whether they’d check his name on the ballot.
Political watchers think the 60 charges Hunter faces in the Southern District of California for wire fraud, falsification of records, prohibited use of campaign funds and other finance charges may give Campa-Najjar better positioning to flip the district blue.
Trump carried the district by 15 points in 2016.