Obama readies fall campaign push, but some Dems say no thanks

Former President Obama is set to dive into the midterm elections next week with a speech in Illinois where he is expected to urge Democrats across the country to vote — addressing a problem that plagued the party in 2016.

Obama has kept a low political profile since leaving office, but sources familiar with his plans say he will soon hit the campaign trail to help Democrats in their quest to take back the House, protect vulnerable Senate incumbents and win state legislative races.

The former president will kick off his push by delivering a speech at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on Friday. In the weeks ahead, Obama will also campaign in California, Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania, a person familiar with his schedule said.

Not all Democrats want Obama’s help.

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Democratic candidates running in states that President TrumpDonald TrumpSenators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session Gosar's siblings pen op-ed urging for his resignation: 'You are immune to shame' Sunday shows - Delta variant, infrastructure dominate MORE won by double digits in 2016 would prefer that the former president stay far away.

Some Democrats in pro-Trump states, such as Sens. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseySenate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines Biden celebrates anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act Lawmakers introduce bipartisan Free Britney Act MORE Jr. (Pa.), Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowBiden pays tribute to late Sen. Levin: 'Embodied the best of who we are' Former longtime Sen. Carl Levin dies at 87 Energy chief touts electric vehicle funding in Senate plan MORE (Mich.) and Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownTop Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure Schumer's moment to transform transit and deepen democracy Democrats ramp up pressure for infrastructure deal amid time crunch MORE (Ohio), say they hope Obama will campaign for them. 

Others, such as Sens. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterSenators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session Schumer: Democrats 'on track' to pass bipartisan deal, .5T budget Senate infrastructure talks spill over into rare Sunday session MORE (Mont.) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampJoe Manchin's secret Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda Effective and profitable climate solutions are within the nation's farms and forests MORE (N.D.), want to keep the race locked on the battle between themselves and their state rivals, fearing a high-profile surrogate like Obama could distract from the strategy.

“We’re not going to use any surrogates. Surrogates are fine but we don’t need them. The race is myself and Matt Rosendale and that’s the way we want to keep it,” Tester told The Hill, referring to his GOP challenger. 

Asked if she thought Obama might show up in North Dakota, Heitkamp said: “Nope, no.” 

“He threatened to campaign against me once so I don’t think he’s coming out there,” she said.

While the former president remains extremely popular with the Democratic base, especially among African-American voters, Democrats fear his entrance into some battleground states could inadvertently rev up conservatives and pro-Trump voters.

“Trump wants nothing more than a foil. He knows he can activate the other side," said a source familiar with Obama's thinking.  

The former president is "going to be involved this fall in a very Obamaesque, smart way,” the source added.

Democrats say that one way Obama can have a big impact on races is by urging infrequent voters to show up to the polls in November, something that will be a major theme of the former president's speech on Friday.

“He will echo his call to reject the rising strain of authoritarian politics and policies. And he will preview arguments he’ll make this fall, specifically that Americans must not fall victim to our own apathy by refusing to do the most fundamental thing demanded of us as citizens: vote,” said Obama communications director Katie Hill.

Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenSenate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines Civil rights activist Gloria Richardson dies Senate Democrats hit speedbumps with big spending plans MORE (D-Md.), the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), said the party welcomes Obama’s help but noted it’s up to individual candidates whether to invite him to their states. 

“We welcome his participation in these races as a DSCC. Every Senate candidate will decide in conversation with President Obama whether it makes sense for him to come to their states,” Van Hollen said on CSPAN’s “Newsmakers” program last month.

Van Hollen noted that Obama held a joint fundraiser for the DSCC and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last year.

Obama also held a fundraiser in May for Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillGiuliani to stump for Greitens in Missouri McCaskill shares new July 4 family tradition: Watching Capitol riot video Joe Manchin's secret MORE (D-Mo.), who is running in a state Trump won by 19 points.

Still, the former president has held off on endorsing Democratic senators running in states won by Trump, even though he has backed Democratic candidates down the ballot in some of those states.

For example, while he endorsed Richard CordrayRichard Adams CordrayDennis Kucinich jumps into race to be Cleveland mayor Biden administration reverses Trump-era policy that hampered probes of student loan companies On The Money: IRS to start monthly payments of child tax credit July 15 | One-fourth of Americans took financial hits in 2020: Fed MORE, Betty Sutton and Steve Dettelbach, the Democratic candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general in Ohio, respectively — as well as two U.S. House candidates and a slew of state House candidates in the Buckeye State — he did not endorse Brown, the incumbent U.S. senator. 

Asked why his name was missing from Obama’s endorsement list, Brown said, “I don't have any idea” but added, “I make nothing of that.”

The Democratic senator noted that Obama is likely to make additional endorsements and said he would welcome his support.

“I’d love for him to come to Ohio and help us with voter turnout for Cordray and for me,” he said. 

Democratic sources say Obama will campaign with Casey in Pennsylvania, even though the former president also didn’t include him on the list of candidates from the Keystone State he endorsed last month.

Obama announced his support for two House candidates in Pennsylvania, Madeleine Dean and Susan Wild, and three state House candidates, but not Casey.

Trump carried both Ohio and Pennsylvania over Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClintons, Stacey Abrams meeting Texas Democrats Biden says Russia spreading misinformation ahead of 2022 elections Highest-ranking GOP assemblyman in WI against another audit of 2020 vote MORE in 2016. He won Ohio by 8 points and Pennsylvania by less than 1 point.

When Obama made his first round of endorsements in August, he stayed away from Democratic Senate candidates with the exception of Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenWestern US airports face jet fuel shortage Bipartisan group says it's still on track after setback on Senate floor The Hill's Morning Report - Biden renews families plan pitch; Senate prepares to bring infrastructure package to floor MORE (D), who is running to unseat Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerDemocrat Jacky Rosen becomes 22nd senator to back bipartisan infrastructure deal 9 Senate seats most likely to flip in 2022 On The Trail: Democrats plan to hammer Trump on Social Security, Medicare MORE (R) in Nevada — the only Senate battleground that Trump lost.

Obama’s endorsement in state and local races is less likely to hurt Democratic candidates because those contests are often less partisan than federal races. The GOP strategy in Senate races in red states is to tie the centrist Democratic incumbents to party leaders in Washington.

One Democratic strategist said the lack of endorsements from Obama falls under the 'do no harm' category.

"Both of those senators are doing well their respective states and they don't exactly need Obama's seal of approval. In fact, it might do more harm than good," the strategist said. "Obama is still popular with certain folks in those states but he's not exactly popular with some others."

But Chuck Rocha, a Democratic strategist, said he doesn't think it has to do with unpopularity but a focus on races that need his support.

"There are others who have tougher races than Sherrod's and Casey's," he said. "Those races are shaping up to be easier than some others ... And they have robust war chests so they don't really need Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaHave our enemies found a way to defeat the United States? Millennial momentum means trouble for the GOP Biden's Cuba problem: Obama made a bet and lost MORE's endorsement."

Rocha said he wouldn't expect Obama to endorse senators like Tester and Heitkamp. "Places like that, they're probably not advocating to get that endorsement."

A person familiar with Obama’s thinking cautioned against reading too much into his endorsements, noting that he will come out with another round before Election Day.

Casey expects to receive Obama’s support and to campaign with him in the next few weeks.

“We look forward to campaigning with him, we hope, in the fall. I hope to. I don’t know what the schedule will be,” he said.

Casey said he thinks Obama would help Democrats up and down the ballot if he campaigns in Pennsylvania and noted that Obama has made it a priority to focus on local races in order to give Democrats more leverage in future congressional redistricting.

Patrick Rodenbush, communications director for the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, said Obama has been very helpful in trying to give Democrats more influence over future congressional district maps.

“He helped us with fundraising since we were launched in 2017,” he noted. “He cut a video for us in July about the stakes of redistricting and why these elections in November matter."

“He’s going to hit the road in September. We expect he’ll talk about the issue of redistricting when he’s out on the trail,” he added.

Obama also headlined fundraisers for the Democratic National Committee in September of last year and this past June.