CLEVELAND — At a rally in a hot and sweaty high school gym, former President Obama laid into the current White House administration, deriding President Trump — though not by name — saying the issues at stake now in the country transcend party politics.
“It’s not Democratic or Republican to say that’s not how democracy is supposed to work. It’s not partisan to not threaten freedom of press when they don’t follow the story. It’s not partisan to say you don’t target people based on what they look like or how they pray,” he said to roaring applause.
Mr. Obama addressed more than 4,000 people at a rally to boost Richard Cordray, the Democrat running for governor who Mr. Obama appointed to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in his administration, the federal consumer watchdog agency founded in the aftermath of the Great Recession.
“Rich is somebody who has always been committed to solving problems” Mr. Obama said. “We think that if you’re a kind person you might not be a tough person. I don’t know why we can’t celebrate both.”
During his hour-long remarks — during which at least one person fainted from the heat and sought medical care — he touched on health care and inequality, turning back to his time on the campaign trail in 2008.
But he also found moments to blast President Trump for asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions to stop Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election, and for the “zero tolerance” policy of separating immigrant families at the border.
“None of this is conservative,” he said. “This is not normal what we’re seeing now in politics.”
Mr. Obama said after Republican policies of deregulation and catering to the wealthy wreck havoc on the nation, a “Democrat like me has to come in and clean up this stuff.”
The Ohio visit marked one of Mr. Obama’s first forays back into politics as the midterms approach and Democrats fight to regain seats in the U.S. House and Senate.
His appearance was built up over nearly two hours, during which other Democrats on the statewide ticket took the stage before Mr. Cordray, whose presence was comparatively more subdued, at a rally designed to get people to the polls.
While Mr. Cordray blasted “the backward state legislature for holding us back,” he largely stuck to his previous message of health care, jobs, and affordable college.
Even though the economy is showing strength “nobody lives their lives in the averages,” he said. “We’re anxious about how we’re going to pay the bill. That’s what keeps people up at night. It keeps me up at night as well.”
Mr. Cordray, the former attorney general, is locked in a dead heat with current Attorney General Mike DeWine, who will attend a private campaign fund-raiser today with Donald Trump, Jr., in Salem, Ohio. A POLITICO/AARP poll released Wednesday showed them in a virtual tie ahead of Mr. Obama’s visit.
Ralliers interviewed at the event said they were happy with the Democratic ticket.
“That whole list is people-friendly, labor-friendly. I think it’s a good ticket.” said Regina Williams, a 64-year-old letter carrier from Cleveland.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown also took shots at Republicans, referring to President Trump as the “President who shall not be named” and blasting Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos as his worst appointment. He also said the “culture of corruption” in Columbus was “the worst I’ve seen in my lifetime.”
He touted Mr. Cordray’s record in the federal government.
“Richard Cordray can stand up to the banks, stand up to Wall Street and the payday lenders and the people who rip off low-income people,” he said. “You can sure as hell bet Richard Cordray is going to stand up for us.”
Earlier in the day, Republicans held a conference call to blast Democrats ahead of Mr. Obama’s visit, accusing Mr. Obama of trying to take credit for recent economic growth.
“The roaring economy is because of Republican policies,” said Jane Timken, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party. “Obama can’t take credit for the economy. Republicans should take credit for the economy.”
Ohio’s bellwether races have attracted plenty of national attention this election cycle. President Trump, who has endorsed Mr. DeWine, has traveled here twice in as many months to rally his base around U.S. Rep. Troy Balderson (R., Zanesville) in the 12th congressional district, and appear at the Republican Party’s fund-raising dinner. Democrats announced that California Senator Kamala Harris will headline the Democrats’ state fund-raiser Oct. 7.
It isn’t the first time the two have run against each other: Mr. DeWine ousted Mr. Cordray as attorney general in 2010. In an attack ad, Mr. DeWine accuses his opponent of failing to the address the backlogged rape kits he cleared in his current term, while Mr. Cordray and others argue the issue only surfaced during his final months in office and that he laid the groundwork for future testing.
Contact Liz Skalka at email@example.com, 419-724-6199, or on Twitter @lizskalka.
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