By Aadam Samee
On October 19th, in downtown Richmond, Democratic candidate for Virginia governor Ralph Northam featured former President Barack Obama in his first public appearance since leaving office. Obama came to support Northam’s bid for governor against Republican candidate Ed Gillespie, which Northam won yesterday in Virginia’s statewide elections.
On the day of the rally, a line stretched around VCU’s The Siegel Center in downtown Richmond, where people were selling colorful political t-shirts and buttons in support of Northam’s campaign. There was ample security, and after getting through the metal detector, spectators entered a massive room filled with nearly 7,500 Northam supporters. A black podium was in the front of the stage with a blue sign that read, “NORTHAM FOR VIRGINIA” in bold, prominent white letters, where the crowd anxiously waited for the 44th president, and others, to speak. To the left of the stage there were supporters holding up letters that read, “Northam 4 Governor.” Several prominent Democratic speakers preceded Obama, such as Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, and Northam. When introducing President Obama, Northam stated, “It’s going to be a fight… it’s going to take all of us together.” Each speaker endorsed Northam’s dedication to the people of Virginia.
Obama did not mention President Trump by name once throughout his speech. Obama said, “Instead of our politics reflecting our values, we’ve got politics infecting our communities.” He continued: “If you have to win a campaign by dividing people, you won’t be able to govern them. You won’t be able to unite them later.”
The atmosphere of the room became much more energized and excited when Obama entered, because everyone was waiting for him. Thousands of people of all age groups and races were on their feet holding up signs they received upon entering the rally. He encouraged Democrats to vote and said they tend to “fall to sleep” in off-year elections. He also mentioned the anti-Northam ads he had seen on television. He began by informing the crowd that “Michelle and I get the same commercials in D.C. that y’all do here… It is a tactic that shows Ralph’s opponent does not think highly of Virginians,” he continued, “There is some ominous voice. Everything is kind of dark. Just letting you know that somebody is coming to get you. That our values are at risk if you vote for Ralph. They don’t really tell you exactly why. We have seen it before.” Northam is an Army veteran and practicing pediatric neurologist, which is why Obama says, “I don’t think that someone who spent his life performing surgery on soldiers and children is suddenly cozying up to street gangs.”
After Obama mocked Gillespie’s advertisements, he stressed the importance of voting in this election and said, “you can’t sit this one out.” St. Catherine’s senior Alizeh Khalid says, “There is no Electoral College involved, so your vote makes a direct change, and it is an important part of being a good citizen.” She stated that Northam “has no flaws” and “he is really humble and a down-to-earth candidate, which is uncommon these days.” Khalid has been an avid supporter of Obama since she was “just a little kid,” and her support for the Democratic Party reflects the views of many of the supporters at the rally. Thousands of Northam supporters were on their feet during Obama’s speech.