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Obama Travels To Virginia To Campaign For Democrat's Gubernatorial Candidate


Former U.S. President Barack Obama is back on the stump. Last night, he campaigned in Virginia for the Democratic nominee for governor there. The race is tight, and it pits the state's Democratic lieutenant governor, Ralph Northam, against Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman and adviser to the George W. Bush administration. NPR's Sarah McCammon has more from Richmond.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: On paper, Democrats have an edge in Virginia. Demographics are shifting their way, Hillary Clinton won the state in 2016, and former President Barack Obama won it twice. But as Obama reminded Democrats last night, off-year elections are not their party's strong suit.


BARACK OBAMA: And so, as a consequence, folks wake up and they're surprised - how come we can't get things through Congress? How come we can't get things through the statehouse? Because you slept through the election.

MCCAMMON: Virginia's voter turnout rate last year was above 70 percent. In 2015, an off year, it was more than 40 points lower, and Democrats tend to struggle the most with low turnout. In a crowded convention center, Obama alluded to President Trump's rhetoric, asking voters to reject what he described as a politics of division and distraction. He called on supporters to, quote, "believe in a better kind of politics."


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

MCCAMMON: In the wake of the 2016 election, Democrats have talked about wooing rural white voters, but Obama came to Richmond, a city where blacks outnumber whites. His visit could help energize the younger, more diverse voters who've consistently supported him and who make up much of the Democratic base. Bob Denton, a political communications scholar at Virginia Tech, says both parties have to focus on getting out the vote in this race where polls have been tight.


ROBERT DENTON: And this has become a base race. I mean, if no one's at 50 percent, right here it's not about converting right now, it's not about persuading. So right now, it's about activation and it's about getting out your base.

MCCAMMON: Virginia, along with New Jersey, is one of just two states holding gubernatorial elections this year. That means many eyes will be watching voters as they go to the polls in a couple of weeks. Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Richmond. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.