Former President Barack Obama will hit the campaign trail next week for the first time since leaving the White House.
On Thursday, October 19, Obama will appear with Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who is battling Republican Ed Gillespie in a race for the Virginia governor’s mansion, at a rally in Richmond. The news was first reported by Politico.
Democrats only have a handful of competitive races this Election Day into which they can pour their anti-Trump energies, but the Virginia gubernatorial election is arguably the most important one in which Obama can make a difference.
There’s also a race for governor of New Jersey this November that Democrats are expected to win (a special election for an open Senate seat in Alabama won’t be held until December). Obama will also campaign for Democrat Phil Murphy in New Jersey ahead of that election, according to a source close to the former president, though the date and location of that event have not been determined.
Some recent polls between Gillespie and Northam show Northam with a lead of between 4 and 13 points. The RealClearPolitics polling average puts Northam about 7 points ahead of the former Republican National Committee chair.
"You should be very skeptical of anyone claiming Northam is going to run away with this," says Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst at the University of Virginia. "Virginia's voters are whiter, older, and more educated. Only the third favors Northam."
Obama has long been expected to campaign for Northam this fall, although he has mostly tried to stay above the political fray since leaving office. "[Obama’s] been looking forward to a life without the title of president that automatically draws resistance and the Pavlovian response of opposition," said one adviser close to Obama. "As a former president, you are liberated from that baggage and can reach people in a way that's not so political.”
Next week, Obama will sacrifice part of that liberation to try to help Northam become the next governor of Virginia.