Donald Trump

Former President Barack Obama to Energize Most Fervent Democrats in Super Blue Philadelphia, With Turnout Key in Upcoming Midterm Elections

Why does the liberal icon and standard bearer of the Democratic Party believe Philadelphia is important?

What to Know

  • In Pennsylvania, Republicans hold 10 of 18 congressional district seats, despite a nearly 800,000 voter disadvantage to Democrats.
  • Much of that disadvantage comes from southeastern Pennsylvania, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 700,000.
  • Former President Obama will take the stage of Dell Music Center in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park about 90 minutes after doors open at 2:30.

When former President Barack Obama visits North Philadelphia on Friday afternoon to pack an outdoor music venue for a voters' rally, he'll be speaking within the confines of one of the bluest areas in the country.

He'd have to stop in either the South Bronx or the Upper West Side of Manhattan, in fact, to be in a more liberal domain than Philadelphia's Third Congressional District.

The decision to spend his time trying to rally voters in such a Democratic stronghold confounds some like Bryan Leib, the Republican candidate challenging Third District incumbent U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans.

"If I was President Obama, I wouldn't be coming to Philly," Leib said. "He's making the same mistake as Hillary Clinton did in 2016. She came to Philadelphia and ignored the suburbs. It cost her."

Obama will be speaking to the choir, in other words, when he comes to rally liberals for Pennsylvania's Democratic candidates ahead of the November midterm elections. Incumbents, Sen. Bob Casey and Gov. Tom Wolf, along with some of the state's congressional Democratic candidates, will be part of the get-together inside the city's lush Fairmount Park setting.

That type of audience might seem safe, maybe even too safe. But it’s essential those choir members actually make it to church - that is, the polls - on Election Day. As political history professor Randall Miller of Saint Joseph University puts it, "The big thing in any election is voter turnout. It's a special problem if you don't have a presidential election."

"The purpose of this rally is obvious on this front," Miller added. "But it's an obvious purpose that needs to be done. Many people don't appreciate the importance of down-ticket elections and off-year elections."

WATCH LIVE: Obama's speech to Democrats at the Dell Music Center in Fairmount Park will be available on this page starting at 4 p.m. Friday. 

The Democratic Party is hoping to turn liberal voters' energy into a blue wave come the Nov. 6 election. As is often the case in the first congressional election following a new president's election, the vote is a referendum on the commander-in-chief's job performance. President Trump's controversial first two years in office have led many to believe Republicans could lose control of Congress.

Obama is uniquely qualified to gin up interest. He's an iconic figure in a Democratic Party bereft of powerful central leadership.

Unlike his predecessor, George W. Bush, Obama is still widely admired by those within his party.

"You worry about him [if you're a Republican] because he has the ability to excite people and get them to follow him," Miller said. "Some people hate him for it. Some hate him for being African American. But he's a very powerful figure. His charisma makes him so dangerous."

Following a court-mandated redistricting of Pennsylvania's 18 congressional districts, Democrats believe the state could be one of the keys to winning back control of the House. Under what the state Supreme Court deemed a gerrymandered map, Republicans currently hold 10 of the 18 seats — despite a nearly 800,000-voter disadvantage statewide.

Much of that disadvantage comes from southeastern Pennsylvania, where Democrats in the five-county region, including Philadelphia, outnumber Republicans by more than 700,000.

Obama rode enthusiasm for his candidacy in the Philadelphia region to victory in Pennsylvania twice. Hillary Clinton lost Pennsylvania to President Donald Trump, and her vote totals in the southeast region were considerably lower than Obama's.

So what does the Republican candidate Leib think about the prospects of not only overcoming a massive Democratic voter total, but also having Obama stump in his district?

He said the buzz around Obama didn't translate into success for many Philadelphians in the eight years he was president, pointing to the city's enduring poverty and low median incomes.

And Leib thinks Obama is wasting his time.

"President Obama coming to Philadelphia 45, 50 days out from the election, I don't know if that's time best spent for him," Leib said. 

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