ANAHEIM, Calif. — Making his first major campaign foray into the 2018 midterm elections on Saturday, former President Barack Obama urged voters to elect seven Democratic candidates in California, telling the crowd they have a chance to "restore some sanity in our politics."
His message, delivered at the Anaheim Convention Center in a traditionally Republican county in Southern California, touched on shared values of opportunity but also had a sense of urgency.
"It's a consequential moment in our history," Obama told the crowd. "And the fact is that, if we don’t step up, things can get worse. Where there’s a vacuum in our democracy, when we are not participating, we’re not paying attention, when we’re not stepping up — other voices fill the void.”
"But the good news is, in two months we have a chance to restore some sanity in our politics," Obama said. "We have the chance to flip the House of Representatives and make sure that there are real checks and balances in Washington."
Democrats hope to take control of the House and possibly the Senate in the midterms, and Saturday was the first major campaign event by Obama for Democratic candidates in this election cycle.
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The former president was stumping for Democrats Josh Harder, TJ Cox, Katie Hill, Gil Cisneros, Katie Porter, Harley Rouda and Mike Levin, all of whom are running in Republican-held districts won by Clinton in 2016. Last month, he endorsed almost 100 Democratic candidates across the country.
On Friday, Obama gave a speech at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to urge young people to vote. In that speech, he slammed "crazy stuff" coming out of the Trump White House and blasted President Donald Trump for trying to politicize the Justice Department. Obama also rebuked a brand of politics he said is steeped in fear and division.
Obama also recorded a NowThis News video released Saturday. In the social media targeted clip, he said that "basic norms and principles" have been "increasingly violated" and pushed young people to get out and vote.
Orange County, a Republican stronghold in Southern California, voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election — the first time it went blue in a presidential race since Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president.
Obama on Saturday rejected what he called politics of fear and division, and said that they would fight for the education of all children, pay equity between men and women for the same work, protecting Social Security and Medicaid so people can retire with dignity, and not paying “lip service” to members of the military and getting them the benefits they’ve earned and deserve.
"There are people out there right now that are counting on us to make sure they still have health care after this election," Obama said. "That’s on the ballot."
"These are some of the men and women, many of them who never imagined running for office,” the former president said of the California candidates. "But what they understood is, the stakes are high in this election."
Trump has urged his supporters to vote for Republican candidates to support his agenda, and in a speech in Montana on Thursday, he raised the specter of impeachment by Democrats to rally his base.
Outside Saturday’s event there were around 18 pro-Trump demonstrators, with one woman wearing a “Make California Great Again" shirt, borrowing from Trump’s campaign slogan. Another of those demonstrators said in a bullhorn, “the Russian hoax is almost over.”
An Anaheim fire official at the scene estimated the standing-room-only crowd at the invite-only event in the convention center ballroom around 800 people. Before Obama spoke, supporters briefly chanted "take it back," a slogan that was also on the podium with a Twitter hashtag.
Obama also said that the message would not just be focused on die-hard Democrats.
"I want to reach out to some Republicans, who kind of hearken back to the values of a guy named Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president. And who say to themselves ... 'I don't recognize what’s going on in Washington right now — that’s not what I believe,'" Obama said.
He said that in American history "there’s always been a push and pull between those who want to go forward and those who want to look back, between those who want to divide and those who are seeking to bring people together — between those who promote a politics of hope and those who exploit politics of fear."
"All across the country, you can feel the energy. You can feel people saying, 'Oh, enough is enough,'" Obama said, whipping up the crowd.
"We're going to kick off our bedroom slippers, we’re putting on our marching shoes," he said. "We are going to go out, and we are going to start taking some clipboards out, and we’re going to start knocking on some doors."
Time will tell whether a so-called Democratic "blue wave" happens in the midterms as some Democrats hope. For some of the party faithful at Saturday's event, seeing Obama was an energizing moment. "It's just a huge comfort to hear his voice again," said Maurine Burns, a teacher who lives in the city of Orange. "We needed to see his face."
Michael Sean Wright, a 50-year-old filmmaker and Democratic supporter, was more than confident.
"Orange County is not theirs anymore," he said, referring to Republicans. "It's ours."