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Obama On The Campaign Trail In Virginia For Democrat Ralph Northam

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Republicans gained a lot of ground in state elections during the Obama administration. One of the few bright areas for Democrats has been Virginia. Both U.S. senators and the governor there are Democrats. Party leaders want to hold onto the governorship in next month's election, and they are hoping former President Obama can help that happen. Obama is in Virginia today to campaign for Democrat Ralph Northam, who's in what looks to be a tight race against Republican Ed Gillespie. He just finished speaking at the Richmond Convention Center, where he did his best to rev up the crowd.

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BARACK OBAMA: We need you to take this seriously because our democracy is at stake. And it's at stake right here in Virginia.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Sarah McCammon is there in Richmond and joins us now. Hi, Sarah.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Tell us more about what President Obama said tonight.

MCCAMMON: As we just heard, he said there's a lot at stake here in Virginia in this gubernatorial race. It's one of just a couple this year. So it's getting a lot of attention. And the former president tied the race to some of the larger issues facing the country. He stressed the need to get out the vote. And Obama kind of chided Democrats. He said they tend to get sleepy and complacent in off-years, referring to a challenge Democrats often face in getting out the vote. He said, don't wake up the next morning and wonder what happened and wonder why Democrats can't get anything through Congress. And he also said, this is up to you and how bad you want it, telling everyone to make sure that they vote.

SHAPIRO: President Obama has made a few public appearances since he left office, but this is his first time on the campaign trail. Tell us more about the tone that he struck today.

MCCAMMON: Well, overall, it was really positive, lots of big themes and appeals for more positive rhetoric and calls for less division in the country. Obama did make several clear allusions to Trump, although they weren't especially pointed. But he did talk about what he described as cynical politics and the politics of division and destruction that he said are dominating the country. He called on people to believe in a better kind of politics, as he put it.

Obama also touched on racial divisions and appealed to the decency of the American people. He said, you know - he praised the vision of the Founding Fathers and said, even if our past wasn't perfect, we can, quote, "move toward a more perfect union." And finally, Ari, he praised the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Ralph Northam, who he's stumping for, called him a man of integrity, told the crowd here in Virginia they can help to affect that kind of change in the country by voting in November.

SHAPIRO: This race is getting a lot of attention for a Virginia governor's race. It's 1 of only 2 gubernatorial elections this year. How much is it seen as a referendum on President Trump?

MCCAMMON: Well, you know, he has been part of the conversation. We saw the strength of the Trump brand back in the primary here in Virginia. Ed Gillespie, the Republican nominee, was this - was the strong favorite but won really narrowly and almost lost to a challenger who aligned himself with President Trump. But you know, Gillespie can't afford to turn off moderate voters. He also has to appeal to Trump voters, and that's the challenge he's facing. It's a tight race, and that's why President Obama was here telling Democrats not to sit this one out.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Sarah McCammon speaking with us from Richmond. Thanks, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.