Former President Barack Obama took to the road this weekend to help Democratic candidates in the key battleground states of Michigan and Wisconsin. Obama served up the perfect closing question for voters: “Who will fight for your freedom?”
The answer clearly is the Democratic Party, and the former President delivered that message, pointing to threats to reproductive rights and same-sex marriage by some Republicans.
Voter turnout is traditionally considerably lower in the midterms, so the top priority is getting your political base out to vote. The 2018 midterms had a record turnout of 53%, but compare that to the more than 66% who turned out for the 2020 presidential election.
With little over a week to Election Day, Democratic leaders and strategists are searching for the most effective way to inspire voters to cast a ballot for their candidates. Some have argued Democrats should focus on the economy, which many polls show is a top concern among voters.
But in an impassioned plea on my SiriusXM show last week, the always blunt Rick Wilson, co-founder of the Lincoln Project super PAC, urged Democrats to “scare the sh*t out of voters about what Republicans are going to do, because what they are going to do is scary as sh*t.”
Both messages certainly resonate. But the one that seems to move so many Democrats — as I’ve repeatedly heard from listeners to my show — is what Obama told crowds Saturday in the Midwest as well as Friday in Georgia: Democrats are fighting to save our freedoms from extremism within the GOP.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom highlighted this theme months ago with a headline-grabbing ad slamming Republicans, especially Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
In the ad released on July Fourth, Newsom told Florida voters, “Freedom is under attack in your state.” He urged Floridians “to join the fight — or join us in California, where we still believe in freedom: freedom of speech, freedom to choose, freedom from hate and the freedom to love.” Newsom closed his appeal with the words, “Don’t let them take your freedom.”
When that ad first aired, it received a tsunami of praise from Democrats online and from my listeners. Just last week, I replayed that ad on my show, and again listeners responded with how powerful they thought it was and urged Democrats to embrace it. Then came Obama’s speeches Saturday doing just that.
Obama implored the crowd at his first stop in Michigan: “Who will fight for your freedom? Is it a bunch of Republican politicians and judges who think they should get to decide when you start a family or how many children you have, who you marry or who you love?” He then added, “Or is it leaders like (Michigan Democratic Gov.) Gretchen Whitmer who believe that the freedom to make these personal decisions belong to every American, not politicians in Washington?”
A short time later, at a rally in Milwaukee, Obama again posed that question while flanked by Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Democratic US Senate candidate Mandela Barnes: “Is it Republican politicians and judges who think they should get to decide when you start a family or how many children you should have, or who you marry or who you love?” Obama continued, “Or is it Democratic leaders who believe that the freedom to make these most intimate personal decisions belong to every American, not politicians, mostly men, sitting somewhere in Washington?”
The 44th President then put it pointedly: “That’s the choice in this election; that’s what you have to decide.”
Obama did address the challenges of inflation and the economy. After acknowledging the pain caused by rising prices, he noted, “Who’s going to do something about it? Republicans are having a field day running ads talking about it, but what is their actual solution to it?”
Obama pointed out that inflation is a global issue — not a uniquely American one — as a result of problems caused by the pandemic and Russia’s war with Ukraine. There’s no easy solution because if there were, leaders of each country would’ve reduced inflation already.
Recent polls find voter interest in this election is on the higher end for a midterm. But Democrats still must energize their base. Saying inflation causes pain without offering a solution doesn’t get anyone to the polls. But doubling down on extremists in the GOP coming for your freedoms does move people.
If Democratic candidates are in search of a closing message that will invigorate their voters, they should follow the lead of Obama, twice elected as President.
Make it clear to voters that Democrats will fight for your freedoms. After all, inflation is temporary, but losing your freedom may be permanent.
Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @DeanObeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.