ATLANTA — Barack Obama’s central message Friday night was a simple one -- vote.
In a 35-minute speech that touched on everything from gun violence and economic policies to election denialism and abortion at The Gateway Center in College Park, the former president urged voters not to tune out November’s election.
The appearance is one of the Democratic Party’s final attempts to stave off Republican efforts to unseat Sen. Raphael Warnock and deny Stacey Abrams the governor’s mansion. Obama spent portions of his speech attacking their opponents -- GOP Senate candidate Herschel Walker and Gov. Brian Kemp -- while framing the midterms as a struggle over the future of democracy.
“The foundation of our democracy is being called into question right now,” Obama said. “Democrats aren’t perfect. I’m the first one to admit it. …But right now -- with a few notable exceptions -- most of the GOP and a whole bunch of the candidates are not even pretending that the rules apply to them anymore.”
Democrats in Georgia hope the former president’s appearance will push Abrams and Warnock over the line in their tight races while boosting the chances of trailing down-ballot candidates like Secretary of State candidate Bee Nguyen, Lt. Gov. candidate Charlie Bailey, Attorney General candidate Jen Jordan, Agriculture commissioner candidate Nakita Hemingway, Insurance commissioner candidate Janice Laws Robinson, State School Superintendent candidate Alisha Thomas Searcy, and Labor commissioner candidate William Bodie.
The common refrain from speakers, including Sen. Jon Ossoff, Warnock and Abrams was that Georgia voters were instrumental in giving Democrats the White House and the Senate in 2020 and 2021. But they needed to return to the polls in 2022 to complete some unfinished business.
“A vote is a kind of prayer for the world we desire for ourselves and our children,” Warnock said.
How do potential voters feel?
Empty spaces were hard to find in the 100,000 square foot arena. Event organizers estimate that 7,000 people attended the rally. Security lines wrapped around the front of the building as Secret Service and other security employees searched the bags and even wallets of eventgoers.
Political speeches gave way to music, and as politicians took the stage, chants of “Stacey” and “Warnock” broke out.
Among the members of the crowd were Hampton Barrineau and Riley Ball, 18-year-old college students.
Barrineau told 11Alive that Obama’s appearance is a boon for the party because he will energize Black voters to turn out.
The University of Georgia student said he was voting for Democrats in each of Georgia’s races. Health care, he said, was his most important issue. Many of his family members have diabetes, and he said Warnock’s push to cap the cost of insulin was needed. The GOP blocked that measure from passing the Senate earlier this year.
“I feel like Republicans failed to address prescription drug prices,” he said.
Ball, a student at Georgia State University, plans on voting for Brad Raffensperger in the Secretary of State’s race after the Republican rebuffed former president Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election. He plans on voting for Democrats in other races.
“I really like how he didn’t back down to Trump,” Ball said.
Why Obama’s visit matters
Obama’s Friday night visit was the first of several in battleground states ahead of the midterms. On Saturday, the former president will head to Michigan and Wisconsin, followed by stops next week in Nevada and Pennsylvania.
His stop comes as most Democratic candidates trail in their races, according to polling numbers. Polling averages from FiveThirtyEight, a website that focuses on opinion poll analysis and politics, show Warnock virtually tied with Walker, and Abrams trails Kemp by seven points.
However, 11Alive's exclusive poll conducted by SurveyUSA from Sept. 30 to Oct. 4 had Warnock with a wider lead over his challenger Walker.
In his closing statement, Obama urged attendees to vote for the entire Democratic ticket. The former president posed on stage with all of the statewide candidates. As the crowd exited, rapper Jeezy shouted verses from his 2008 hit, “Put On.”
“If enough of us make our voices heard, I promise you that things will get better,” Obama said. “We will heal what ails us. We will restore our democracy. We will build a country that is more fair and more just and more equal and more free. That’s our task. That’s our responsibility. Let’s go do it.”