Obama speech to urge big Democratic turnout in November elections

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former U.S. President Barack Obama will warn Democratic voters in a speech on Friday that the stakes are too high to sit out November’s elections when the party is seeking to wrest control of Congress from President Donald Trump’s Republicans.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Barack Obama greets supporters in an overflow room before he participates in a “Get Out the Early Vote” campaign event for Hillary Clinton in Columbus, Ohio, U.S., November 1, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

Obama has largely avoided the spotlight since Trump succeeded him last year. But Friday’s speech at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will mark the start of a flurry of activity as he hits the campaign trail in coming weeks on behalf of Democratic candidates.

On Saturday, Obama will appear at an event in Southern California for seven Democratic candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives in Republican-held districts that backed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016, putting them high on the Democratic list of targets.

Obama travels next week to Ohio to campaign for the Democratic candidate for governor, Richard Cordray, a former Obama administration official.

Later in the month, he is expected to campaign in Illinois and Pennsylvania, the latter state being critical to Democratic hopes of picking up the 23 seats needed to win a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and put the brakes on Trump’s agenda.

In his Illinois speech on Friday, Obama will revisit themes he has expounded on in the past, including that “America is at its best when our democracy is inclusive and our citizens are engaged,” and that “this moment in our country is too perilous for Democratic voters to sit out,” said spokeswoman Katie Hill.

Traditionally, both parties see a large drop-off in turnout in non-presidential election years.

The former Democratic president, following tradition, has been reluctant to publicly criticize Trump, to the frustration of some in his party. Trump has been critical of Obama’s eight years in office.

But during his eulogy for the late Republican Senator John McCain last week, Obama appeared to directly reference Trump, when he declared: “So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse can seem small and mean and petty, trafficking in bombast and insults and phony controversies and manufactured outrage.”

At the University of Illinois, Obama will receive the Paul H. Douglas Award for Ethics in Government, named for the longtime U.S. senator from Illinois. Obama served as a senator from Illinois for almost four years.

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