‘Outhustle the other side’: Obama urges Michigan voters to oust Trump in first joint appearance with Biden

Former President Barack Obama gave his vice president Joe Biden his full-throated endorsement Saturday in their first joint appearance of the campaign, as he urged Michigan voters to turn out against President Donald Trump to better respond to the coronavirus pandemic and rebuild the economy.

Obama attacked Trump for incompetently responding to COVID-19, which resulted in a death rate more than double that in neighboring Canada, and for hurting the economy to become the first president in nearly a century to lose jobs during his term. 

“We’ve got to outhustle the other side,” Obama told voters in 179 cars at a drive-in event outside Flight Northwestern High School. “We’ve got to leave no doubt about who we are and what this country stands for.”

Biden commended Obama as a great president compared to his successor using an insult from his childhood in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

“You’re still driving him crazy because he knows he isn’t a patch on your jeans,” Biden said of Obama.

Between drive-in events in Flint and Detroit, Biden and Obama visited a canvassing event at Birmingham Unitarian Church in Bloomfield Hills.

“The lifeblood of a campaign is not rallies, it’s not TV ads, it is people willing to, you know, take a clipboard, talk to their neighbors and talk to their friends and talk to their co-workers,” Obama told the participants.

Biden said Obama was an inspirational figure, but he hoped participants would remain active after the election.

“We have an enormous opportunity,” Biden said. “I hope that in addition to us winning, I hope you stay engaged, stay involved, help some of you run for office.”

The evening rally for Biden and Obama featured a performance by Stevie Wonder in a casino parking lot next to Belle Island Park in Detroit. The blind Motown legend, who performed “Superstition” among other songs, urged members of the audience standing in a parking lot to maintain social distance.

“I see you all getting too close,” Wonder said.

Former President Barack Obama speaks at a rally for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who served as his vice president, at Northwestern High School in Flint, Mich., on Oct. 31, 2020.

Michigan is one of six key battleground states – along with Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina and Arizona – that Trump won in 2016 and that Biden is fighting to flip.

Trump won Michigan by a slender 10,704 votes, or less than 1%. But Biden leads Trump by 8.8 percentage points in an average of polls through Saturday, according to the tracking site FiveThirtyEight.com.

Trump was barnstorming four sites in Pennsylvania on Saturday. But Trump visited Waterford Township in Michigan on Friday and planned to return to the state Sunday at Washington and Monday at Traverse City and Grand Rapids.

“Four days from now, we are going to win this state and we are going on to win four more great years in the White House,” Trump said Friday in Waterford.

Obama provides a potent weapon for Biden during the closing days of the campaign. Obama had recorded a video with Biden discussing racial justice and healthcare. More recently, Obama has met with community leaders and given speeches in Philadelphia and Orlando.

The speeches featured scathing criticism of Trump as incompetent at protecting the country, or even himself, from COVID-19 while letting the economy run aground. But the speeches were also laced with humor about the pandemic getting more press than the president.

The pandemic and economic crisis are important issues in Michigan. Thousands have protested Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s ordered restrictions to curb the virus. Trump has urged the state to reopen while Biden commended her leadership.

“We got to get our governor to open up our state here, don’t we?” Trump said Friday in Waterford after the government reported the economy grew at a 33% annual rate during the third quarter. “I’m delivering the great American comeback.”

The candidates also sparred over job creation. Trump argues that the economy was growing reliably during the first three years of his term and will rebound from the pandemic. He reminded voters that he negotiated a new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico after widespread complaints about the previous deal that Biden supported.

But Trump’s promise to rebuild manufacturing has been met skeptically. The number of manufacturing jobs in Michigan was down before the pandemic, and unemployment remains stubbornly high.

Obama said manufacturing jobs in Michigan grew 15% during the final four years of his administration, compared to 1% under Trump’s first term.

“We handed him the longest streak of job growth in American history,” Obama said. “But the economic damage that he inflicted by botching the pandemic response means he’ll be the only president since Herbert Hoover to actually lose jobs.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden, right, and former President Barack Obama greet each other at a rally at Northwestern High School in Flint, Mich., on Oct. 31, 2020.

Biden reminded voters that the Obama administration rescued the automobile industry with government investment after the 2008 recession. Biden also oversaw the distribution of nearly $1 billion in stimulus spending.

Obama said the economy created 1.5 million more jobs during the final three years of his administration than during the first three years of Trump’s administration.

“That was before he could blame the pandemic,” Obama said. “Joe Biden and I with the help of the Democratic Congress rescued the auto industry.”

Obama argued that Trump could have done more to respond to the pandemic because the death rate in the U.S. is 2.5 times higher than Canada, even though both countries got their first cases during the same week. At Canada’s rate, the country would have 90,000 deaths rather than nearly 230,000, Obama said.

“I understand the president was eager to downplay it because he wanted credit for the economy he inherited,” Obama said. “Tweeting at the TV doesn’t fix things. Making stuff up doesn’t make people’s lives better.”

Obama also zinged Trump because of the president’s repeated referrals to the size of the crowds at his political rallies.

“He’s still worrying about his inauguration crowd being smaller than mine. It really bugs him,” Obama said. “Does he have nothing better to worry about. Did no one come to his birthday party when he was a kid? Was he traumatized?”

While Biden will concentrate on Pennsylvania in his final campaigning Sunday and Monday, Obama is scheduled to visit South Florida and Atlanta on Monday. Georgia, which traditionally supports Republicans, appears competitive this year and Biden made two stops in the state on Tuesday.

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