Obama returns to political arena

PHOTO: AFP

RICHMOND, United States - Barack Obama is returning to the political arena for the first time in months after keeping a low profile and avoiding direct confrontation with his White House successor.

The 56-year-old former president is scheduled to attend campaign rallies in New Jersey and Virginia on Thursday to support Democratic party candidates for governor.

Voters in both states will decide the gubernatorial contests on November 7, one year after Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton and stormed into the White House on a wave of anti-establishment fury.

The races are a potential indicator of voter sentiment ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, which will be a major test for Trump and his Republican party.

"There are only two big elections this year, for governor in NJ and VA," political science professor Larry Sabato told AFP.

"What's at stake is bragging rights headed into the 2018 midterm elections," Sabato said.

It is unclear what Obama's message will be. The former US leader has remained largely detached from the political debate since leaving office on January 20, in keeping with presidential tradition.

Trump has meanwhile used his first nine months in the White House to methodically demolish key Obama administration policies.

After three months of vacation Obama began writing his memoirs. He has said little in public and granted almost no interviews.

The few times Obama broke his silence was to comment on issues of national importance, such as immigration, health care and climate change.

But the 44th president may be tempted on Thursday to take aim at Trump, who has frequently and publicly excoriated his predecessor.

TEST FOR TRUMP

In New Jersey, the post of governor will almost certainly go to Democrat Philip Murphy, who would succeed Chris Christie, a Trump ally whose popularity has plummeted to record lows.

New Jersey "is a runaway win for the Democrats, so Virginia is the only competitive contest. Obama is needed much more in Richmond than Trenton," said Sabato, referring to the capitals of the two states.

Virginia is a pivotal state and the only southern US state that Clinton won in 2016. Its importance is amplified by its proximity to the US capital.

"If the GOP loses in Virginia, Trump will be widely blamed since he is so unpopular in a state carried by Hillary Clinton," Sabato said.

"Should the Republicans win Virginia's governorship, then Trump will not be viewed as such a liability for the GOP in 2018." In Richmond, Obama will back Ralph Northam, a former military doctor who was credited Wednesday with a slight lead over Republican Ed Gillespie in a Quinnipiac poll.

Obama's impending arrival in the city of over 220,000 people sparked long lines of people seeking tickets to the campaign event.

Well aware of the importance of the vote, Trump has backed Gillespie and accused Northam of "fighting for the violent MS-13," a Hispanic gang, as well as "sanctuary cities" that offer shelter to illegal immigrants.

Gillespie, a former advisor to president George W. Bush who has become a millionaire lobbyist, has so far kept a cautious distance from the mercurial Trump, whose backing recently failed to ensure the election of his pick in a Republican Senate race in Alabama.

The Obamas' holiday in Indonesia

  • Former US president Barack Obama (center) shakes hands with Bali Governor Made Mangku Pastika upon arriving at I Gusti Ngurah Rai International Airport on June 23.
  • A Land Cruiser carrying former US president Barack Obama leaves I Gusti Ngurah Rai International Airport on June 23.
  • Former United States president Barack Obama and his family have reportedly visited several tourist attractions during their Bali holiday so far, including the Agung Rai Museum of Art, the Jatiluwih rice terraces and Ayung River. Obama and his family reportedly walked through the 500-meter hiking route circling the paddy fields. They then visited Pura Subak, meeting local farmers.
  • Obama, his wife Michelle and their two daughters arrived in Bali on Friday evening for a five-day vacation on the Island of the Gods.
  • On Saturday, the family visited Agung Rai Art Museum (ARMA). Located on Jl. Raya Pengosekan, Ubud, the museum exhibits collections of both traditional and modern paintings from foreign and local artists, including Ida Bagus Made and Anak Agung Gede Sobrat.
  • During their museum visit, the Obamas were also welcomed by Pendet and Tumbuk Padi dance performances. According to tempo.co, the former president expressed an interest in a 1930s painting by I Gusti Nyoman Lempad. The next day, the Obamas reportedly went to Jatiluwih village in Tabanan. Known for its breathtaking views of rice terraces, the area is located around 54 kilometers from Denpasar and is included in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.
  • Former US president Barack Obama (second left), his wife Michelle (third left) and his daughters Sasha (front center) and Malia (second right) go rafting at Bongkasa Village in Badung on Bali island on June 26. Barack Obama kicked off a 10-day family holiday in Indonesia that will take place in Bali and Jakarta, the city where he spent part of his childhood.
  • On Monday, Obama and his family members made their way to Ayung River in Bongkasa Village, Badung, which is located a stone’s throw away from their hotel, the Four Seasons Resort Ubud. Kompas.com reported that Obama and his entourage spent two hours cruising the river, using six boats accompanied by five professional guides.
  • Obama is scheduled to leave Bali on June 28. The former first family will also visit Yogyakarta and Jakarta.
  • Former US president Barack Obama (C) and his family arrive at Borobudur in Magelang on June 28, 2017.
  • Obama kicked off a 10-day family holiday in Indonesia that will take in Bali and Jakarta, the city where he spent part of his childhood, officials said.
  • Former US President Barack Obama visits the 9th-century Borobudur Temple in Magelang, Central Java, Indonesia June 28, 2017.
  • Obama (C) waves while walking with his daughter Malia during a visit to the 9th-century Borobudur Temple in Magelang, Central Java, Indonesia June 28, 2017.
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