Democrats salivate over Obama coming off sidelines
The decision by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to suspend his campaign means former President Obama is about to get back into the political spotlight.
Sources close to Obama and Biden say the two men have spoken “quite frequently,” as one put it, in recent days as Biden pivots to the general election. Obama has also spoken to Sanders in recent days, according to two sources with knowledge of the conversations.
The former president has stayed out of the Democratic primary, but sources say he is anxious to endorse his former vice president, Joe Biden, and become an active player in the general election campaign against President Trump.
Democrats across the country are also ready for his entry.
“IT IS TIME,” Doug Landry, a former Hillary Clinton aide, wrote Wednesday, tweeting a cartoon image of Obama as superman. “RELEASE THE SUPER SURROGATE.”
Sources say the former president is ready but that he and Biden are also conscious of the coronavirus pandemic dominating the country and changing the nature of politics.
Biden actually spoke by phone with Trump on Monday to discuss the pandemic, and Sanders made it clear that the spreading virus was one reason he ended his campaign on Wednesday despite the urgings of some supporters to continue.
“He’s eager to go,” said one source close to Obama. “He’s been waiting for this election for almost four years.”
The pandemic also affects the basics of campaigning. Large rallies and handshakes are impossible, and Biden has been working for the last several weeks from his basement recreation room.
“Like everyone else, Obama is going to have to appear on video or on television, but the biggest question is how?” one source said. “That’s all being ironed out.”
Sources on both sides said they expect Obama — and former first lady Michelle Obama — to begin to appear in upcoming virtual fundraisers to help build excitement around Biden’s campaign and activate some bundlers who remained on the sidelines until now.
“No one has heard from him in a long time, and people will pay a lot of money to hear from him, even on a computer,” one longtime Obama ally said.
Biden has been leaning on Obama for counsel on how he ran his selection process for vice president and more tactical and strategic questions on the transition from the primary to the general election, a source says.
Meanwhile, the former president has been holed up in his Washington home during the coronavirus outbreak working on his book and other projects.
Throughout the primary, Obama remained silent on the horse race and said he wouldn’t endorse a Democrat until after the primary — not even his vice president.
Biden also said he told Obama not to endorse him. “I have to earn this on my own,” he said.
But the former vice president leaned on his time in the Obama administration heavily during the campaign, repeatedly talking about the Obama-Biden years. He ended up reinvigorating his campaign through the support of African American voters loyal to the former president who remembered the vice president fondly.
Before the pandemic, sources say, the plan for Obama was to campaign “aggressively” for the Democratic nominee beginning in the summertime and carrying through until the election.
In 2016, he made his first campaign appearance with Clinton in July with headlines blaring that he “stole the show.”
This year, Obama is also expected to add excitement to Biden’s campaign.
“Seeing Obama on the campaign trail should excite voters who’ve longed to see him weigh in on current issues and give Biden the needed push,” said Basil Smikle, who served as the executive director of the New York State Democratic Party and a former aide to Clinton. “Obama would also remind voters of his competence while in office, creating a strong contrast between Trump and the Democratic alternative.”
On Twitter, Democrats were more than ready for the former president to enter the race.
“What’s that I see on the horizon?” Addisu Demissie, Sen. Cory Booker’s (D-N.J.) former presidential campaign manager, wrote in a tweet that included a GIF of Obama and Biden running down a White House corridor.
With Sanders out, Democrats said Biden needs to bring over progressives to defeat Trump in November.
“Today, many progressives probably feel a bit jaded and somewhat ignored by the mainstream of the party,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. “But Biden has time to create an agenda and create a movement that welcomes progressive voices.”
Another Obama ally agreed, saying Biden now needs to prove he’s able to actually bring together the Obama coalition.
The ally noted that Obama campaigned hard for Clinton in 2016, to no avail.
“Obama alone won’t do much,” the ally said. “We saw what happened in 2016.”
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