CLEVELAND (AP) — Refusing to give Republicans the benefit of the doubt, President Barack Obama is working to saddle GOP candidates across the country with the baggage of Donald Trump and his sexually aggressive comments about women.
Obama will rally for Democrat Hillary Clinton on Friday in Cleveland, Ohio, appearing in one of just a handful of toss-up states that could potentially swing to either Clinton or Trump on Election Day. Campaigning for Clinton has become Obama’s central focus for the month of October and constitutes his best chance to prevent his accomplishments of the last eight years from being reversed by a Republican successor.
Yet as polls suggest Trump’s chances of winning the White House declining, Democrats have increasingly shifted focus to trying to maximize their gains by winning as many congressional seats as possible — perhaps enough to retake control of the Senate and, in a long shot, even the House.
To that end, Obama on Thursday signaled the strategy his party intends to deploy: refusing to let Republican candidates off the hook for their controversial presidential nominee, even if they’ve disavowed him in the wake of a video that emerged late last week of Trump bragging about kissing women without their permission and groping them.
“You can’t wait until that finally happens and then say, ‘That’s too much, that’s enough,’ and then say somehow you are showing some type of leadership and deserve to be elected to the United States Senate,” Obama said at a dinner in Columbus for Ohio Democrats. “In fact, I’m more forgiving of the people who actually believe it than the people who know better and stood silently by, out of political expediency.”
Yet it was first lady Michelle Obama who captured attention across the U.S. on Thursday with an emotional campaign speech at a Clinton rally reflecting on the personal impact Trump’s words about women had on her.
“I have to tell you that I can’t stop thinking about this. It has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn’t have predicted,” Mrs. Obama said. “So while I’d love nothing more than to pretend like this isn’t happening, and to come out here and do my normal campaign speech, it would be dishonest and disingenuous to me to just move on to the next thing like this was all just a bad dream.”
Obama watched a replay of his wife’s speech on Thursday in his limousine while driving to an event in Pittsburgh. Speaking later in Columbus, he said her speech was emblematic of the reason he’d wanted to marry her.
Ohio, with its diverse mix of cities and rural areas, is a coveted prize every four years, seen as a barometer for the shifts in the nation’s political climate. This year, it’s one of just four states that polls still suggest are toss-ups, along with Nevada, North Carolina and Florida.
After returning to Washington midday Friday, Obama planned to convene his National Security Council in the Situation Room for a highly anticipated meeting about Syria. Having cutting off diplomatic talks with Russia after a cease-fire in Syria failed, the Obama administration has been at a loss to find a new viable strategy to stem the violence even as the bloodshed in Aleppo and elsewhere continues to mount.
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