Criticizing the “politics of fear,” former President Barack Obama made a rare appearance in New Jersey on Thursday to urge Democrats to get out the vote for Phil Murphy.
Obama joined Murphy, the Democratic nominee for governor, at a rally in the Robert Treat Hotel in Newark and praised him as someone who understands the economy and believes in public service.
The world will be watching New Jersey on Nov. 7, Obama said in his first campaign event since leaving the White House. In his remarks, the former president made several oblique references to President Trump but stopped short of naming him.
“The world counts on America having its act together,” Obama said. “And just as the world is looking to us, in 19 days the world is going to be looking to New Jersey. In 19 days, the world is going to look and see, what kind of politics do we believe in?”
Earlier speakers at the rally said electing Murphy was necessary to protect Obama’s legacy. Obama mostly stuck to a theme of civic engagement and voter participation, at one point wedging in a subtle reference to Trump’s unexpected election victory in 2016.
“You can’t take this election or any election for granted. I don’t know if y’all have noticed that,” he said to laughs.
Obama also condemned what he called the “politics of division,” which he said goes back centuries. “We thought we put that to bed,” Obama said. “This is the 21st century, not the 19th century.”
Trump’s rhetoric on illegal immigration, his reaction to the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., and his criticism of NFL players protesting the national anthem have been criticized as racially insensitive and divisive, but Obama spoke in general terms and did not mention those episodes.
He was not the only ex-president taking subtle digs at Trump. Across the Hudson River in New York, former President George W. Bush gave a rare speech condemning “bigotry” and “bullying.”
“Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children,” Bush said. “The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.”
Obama said Murphy, his former ambassador to Germany, was a “good and credible” American representative and became a “big celebrity” in the European country. He is the latest high-profile Democrat to campaign with Murphy. Former vice presidents Joe Biden and Al Gore, former Secretary of State John Kerry and Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez have stumped for Murphy in recent weeks. Former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is headlining a fundraiser for Murphy on Sunday.
By contrast, no prominent Republicans have campaigned with Kim Guadagno, the GOP nominee for governor. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Gov. Chris Christie fundraised for the Republican Governors Association with Guadagno in September.
Obama was scheduled to appear with Ralph Northam, the Democrat running for governor in Virginia, later Thursday.