NEWARK, N.J. — Former President Barack Obama made his long-awaited return to the campaign trail Thursday and made only indirect references to President Trump while stumping for Phil Murphy, who's running for governor in New Jersey.
A visibly-relaxed Obama did not mention Trump by name once during his 18-minute speech, during which he touted the Affordable Care Act and his jobs record. However, at various times in his speech, Obama decried the "politics of division" and said he thought those ideas were shelved a long time ago.
"What we can't have is the same old politics of division that we have seen so many times before that dates back centuries," Obama said. "Some of the politics we see now, we thought we put that to bed. That is looking 50 years back. It's the 21st century, not the 19th century."
"Not only will you move New Jersey forward, but you can send a message to our country and a message to the world that we are rejecting the politics of division," Obama said to close his speech. "We are rejecting a politics of fear, that we are embracing a politics that says everybody counts. A politics that says everybody deserves a chance. A politics that says everybody has dignity and worth. A politics of hope — that's what you're fighting for."
Obama has made public appearances since leaving the White House in January, but this was his first stop on the campaign trail since stumping for Hillary Clinton last fall.
Obama used part of his speech to support his administration's work, including his record on jobs and in passing the Affordable Care Act.
"We took the unemployment rate from a high of 10 percent and got it below five percent. We created millions of jobs, and we got wages and income growing again," Obama said. "And by the way, we covered a whole bunch of folks with insurance too."
Obama pressed voters not to take the election for granted, and cited Clinton's election loss in November as evidence that polls can't always be trusted. Current polls show Murphy has a wide lead over Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.
"You can't take this election or any election for granted. I don't know if you all noticed that, but you can't take them for granted," Obama warned. "You've got to run through the tape."
Unsurprisingly, Obama remains popular and stands as a heroic figure to many in Newark, where over half of the population is black. The capacity crowd in a ballroom at the Robert Treat Hotel in downtown Newark greeted him with chants of "four more years!" to which the former president referred them to the Constitution and "Michele Obama."
"Huge," said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka of Obama's impact on the race. "For hundreds of people out here, he's still the president. He's still our president. At the end of the day, he still has the magnetic attraction of the folks in this community. People love him."
While Obama ignored Trump, many pre-rally speakers, including multiple congressman, mentioned him by name. They called on voters to help protect the "Obama legacy," specifically the ACA and immigration policies put into place under Obama, especially the Deferred Action for Childhood arrivals program.
"We will not let Trump and the Republican Party erase President Obama's legacy," said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J.
Obama is also set to stump for Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, the state's Democratic nominee for governor, on Thursday evening in Richmond, Va.