With only three days before Election Day, former president Barack Obama stumped for Florida Democrats in Miami on Friday with a message that voting blue could help create unity across the state.
Obama joined gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum and Sen. Bill Nelson among other candidates at a boisterous rally with hundreds of supporters at the Ice Palace film studio near Miami’s Overtown area.
During an impassioned 45-minute speech, Obama reflected on the two years since he left office. And although he did not mention President Donald Trump by name, Obama blamed the current administration and Republicans for splitting the country apart.
“We’ve seen repeated attempts to try and divide us, with rhetoric designed to make us angry and make us fearful," Obama said, adding that Tuesday's midterm elections are a chance to shift to a "politics based on a sense we are all in this together."
Obama’s stop in Miami underscores the high stakes of Florida’s midterm elections. The former president has been campaigning with Democrats in key battleground states. And Florida’s governor and senate races are especially close.
If elected, Gillum would become Florida’s first ever African American governor and the first elected Democrat in the governor’s mansion in nearly two decades.
Obama painted Gillum as a promising and charismatic candidate. He said the Tallahassee mayor would fight to expand healthcare access and protect the environment.
Gillum, who is facing former congressman Ron DeSantis for governor, also drew praise from Obama for his humble upbringing. Obama said Gillum has lived the “American Dream” after growing up with working parents in South Dade. That’s proof that he will protect the integrity of working class Floridians, Obama said.
“He knows the promise of this country. So he’s not gonna work for people who had it handed to them. He’s gonna work for the people who have to work their way up just like his parents did," Obama said.
Obama also compared his presidency to those of George W. Bush and Trump. He said the economy and healthcare system were left in shambles when he became president in 2008. After his administration and other Democrats oversaw an economic recovery and expanded healthcare coverage, such progress is now being undone with a Republican majority, he said.
On immigration, the former president said the current adminstation is trying make people scared with comments that a caravan of Central Americans is a threat to the country. He said electing Gillum and Nelson is crucial to restoring the country as a caring place that welcomes people, regardless of their race, ethnicity and religion.
“In four days you can choose a bigger, more prosperous, more generous vision of America—an America where love and hope conquer hate,” Obama said.
During their own speeches, Gillum and Nelson discussed the importance of trust and unity in politics. And they reiterated their committments to increasing education funding, expanding healthcare access and protecting the environment.
Raymal Sands, who attended the rally, said the healthcare issue was especially important to her. She wants to see Gillum follow through on his promise to expand Medicaid in Florida.
I have an "aging grandmother," she said as she walked out of the film studio after the rally. And definitely her "healthcare, Medicaid—I want to see those things protected."
Other attendees said seeing Obama gave them hope. Roderick Cornwall said he had a gut feeling in his stomach as he saw the former president take the stage.
"You know when the soldiers go away to war, and they eventually turn back up? And the mothers see them for the first time? That's the feeling I had," he said. "I love that man."
Still, not everyone was supportive of Obama. There were several instances during his speech when protestors shouted and interrupted him. It prompted him to ask, "Why is it that the folks who won the election are so mad all the time?”
For his part, Trump has criticized Obama throughout his own presidency. The current president is now using his popularity among his base to turnout voters for DeSantis and Gov. Rick Scott—who is running for Senate. Trump campaigned in the Fort Myers area Wednesday and will hold a rally in the Panhandle Saturday.
Obama will continue to campaign with Democrats before Election Day. He's scheduled to attend a rally in Atlanta where Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams could be become the nation's first black female governor.