Former President Barack Obama is heading back into the political fray Thursday for rallies where he’ll try to turn black voters out for the Democratic candidates in two closely watched governor’s races.
The former President’s words will be closely watched for contrasts with President Donald Trump, who has actively taken steps to attack his legacy in recent weeks, including on Iran, immigration and health care.
Obama’s rebukes of Trump so far have only been implicit, or delivered anonymously by former aides. He has yet to forcefully or publicly challenge his successor, preferring to stay above the partisan fray even as the Democratic Party is fueled by an eagerness to fight Trump at every opportunity.
Obama will campaign in Newark, New Jersey, with Phil Murphy on Thursday afternoon. Then he’ll hold a night rally in Richmond, Virginia, with Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam.
The events — designed to galvanize black voters who Democrats worry are disengaged this year — mark Obama’s first appearance on the campaign trail since he left office.
Obama has previously held fundraisers for the Democratic National Committee and the newly launched National Democratic Redistricting Committee led by his friend and former attorney general, Eric Holder. He has also kicked off his own foundation’s efforts in Chicago, and he criticized the GOP’s efforts to repeal his Affordable Care Act during a speech in New York City.
His campaign rallies come amid Democratic worries about minority turnout headed into the 2018 midterms. Murphy is seen as the clear frontrunner in New Jersey, but Northam’s contest with Republican Ed Gillespie is close. Northam has faced criticism from some Democrats for failing to more closely link himself with Justin Fairfax, the black Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor.
Other top members of Obama’s administration have been more directly involved in politics than expected since leaving office, too.
Vice President Joe Biden has campaigned aggressively for Democrats, including Doug Jones, the Senate nominee facing former judge Roy Moore in Alabama. Biden stumped for both Murphy and Northam in recent days, too.
And Holder has also campaigned with Northam. In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Wednesday, Holder vowed to be “a part of the resistance” to Trump.