By James Oliphant
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former U.S. President Barack Obama will jump back into the political fray on Friday, telling Democratic voters the stakes are too high to sit out November’s elections, when the party is seeking to wrest control of Congress from President Donald Trump’s Republicans.
Obama has largely avoided the spotlight since Trump succeeded him last year. But a speech on Friday at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will mark the start of a flurry of activity as he hits the campaign trail on behalf of Democratic candidates in critical races.
The Nov. 6 election is widely seen as a referendum on Trump. While the president touts fulfilled campaign promises such as tax cuts and deregulation, his tenure has been clouded by a widening probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and growing questions about his behavior and fitness for office, even by some within his administration.
Both parties traditionally see a large drop-off in turnout in non-presidential election years, but Democrats and Republicans alike are trying to energize voters with talk of high stakes.
Democrats need to pick up 23 seats to win a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and two seats in the U.S. Senate. Control of one or both chambers would allow them not only to foil Trump’s agenda but also to open congressional investigations into his administration.
Democratic control of the House would also allow the party to press impeachment proceedings, although the party has broadly steered clear of making that threat.
Despite that, Trump starkly told his supporters on Thursday to stave off any impeachment proceedings against him by keeping Republican majorities in Congress.
“It’s so ridiculous,” he told a rally in Montana, referring to impeachment. “But if it does happen, it’s your fault, because you didn’t go out to vote. OK? You didn’t go out to vote. You didn’t go out to vote. That’s the only way it could happen.”
Obama, in his speech, will press Americans to turn out in November, saying “this moment in our country is too perilous for Democratic voters to sit out,” according to his spokeswoman Katie Hill.
The former Democratic president, following tradition, has so far been reluctant to publicly criticize his successor, to the frustration of some Democrats. Last week, he appeared to chide Trump, without naming him, in a eulogy for the late Republican Senator John McCain.
Obama will appear at a campaign event in Southern California this weekend before heading to Ohio next week and, later in September, to Illinois and Pennsylvania.
(Reporting by James Oliphant; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Peter Cooney and Frances Kerry)