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Dems still relying on Obama popularity while grassroots groups tackle midterm swing seats

Former President Barack Obama delivers a speech at a Democratic Party rally in Cleveland, Ohio, on Sept. 13, 2018. (Mainichi/Kota Takamoto)

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- A cheer goes up from the some 3,000 people packed into a hot and humid high school gymnasium here in the midwestern United States on Sept. 13 as the speaker takes the stage for the Democratic Party rally, sleeves rolled up. But the man waving to the crowd is neither the party's local candidate in the upcoming congressional midterm elections, nor a big name Democratic lawmaker. It is former President Barack Obama.

Obama had refrained from making public statements on U.S. politics since President Donald Trump took office more than 1 1/2 years ago, but he is now lending all his oratorical talents to the support of Democratic Party candidates in their midterm campaigns.

"There's nothing compassionate about separating immigrant children from their moms," Obama tells the Cleveland crowd, one of many barbs he levels at the Trump administration without actually mentioning his successor by name. He goes on to encourage the people to keep up the political fight, "because you are the only check on bad policy, you are the only real check on abuses of power. It's you and your vote."

Lawyer Andrea Whitaker, 51, appeared excited to hear Obama's speech. "It was amazing. Ever since Trump became president, it has been depressing every day. But today, I felt like if we can get together and work together, there is hope."

U.S. media outlets report daily that, fuelled by anti-Trump passions, the Democrats' midterm campaign fundraising and voter registration efforts have been far more energetic than those of the Republicans.

A lot of attention has been focused on Swing Left, a grassroots organization that channels campaign funds into congressional districts based not on the Democratic candidate's policies or character, but on their chance of winning a closely-fought race. Organizers have designated 84 "swing" districts where the difference in votes received by the winner and the runner up was 15 percent or less in the last election. People interested in getting involved in Swing Left's efforts can enter their zip code on the group's website, which will then tell them the nearest closely contested district, helping them choose where to volunteer or donate.

The website was launched in January 2017, the month of Trump's inauguration, and about 500,000 people have registered so far. The site has also pulled in over $8 million (about 900 million yen) in donations.

Writer Ethan Todras-Whitehill, founder of Swing Left, explained that he came up with the idea for the movement while considering ways to effectively help candidates he supported.

A man checks which congressional districts near his home are closely contested, at a Swing Left booth set up at a rally for Democratic candidates in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 8, 2018. (Mainichi/Kota Takamoto)

The Democratic Party has learned its lesson from the 2016 presidential election, in which Hillary Clinton, despite winning the popular vote, lost the Electoral College to Trump primarily because of defeats in closely contested states.

Currently, Republicans have a majority in both the House and Senate. A Swing Left public relations official emphasized that "restoring Democratic control of the House is the best way" to check the Trump agenda.

However, critics have pointed out that Swing Left is "playing a numbers game without paying attention to what candidates they support are advocating." Moreover, the Democrats do not have a clear strategy for bringing together candidates and supporters other than capitalizing on anger over Trump's politics.

The rise of leftist candidates, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who won the Democratic House primary in New York's 14th congressional district, has generated buzz among young people and minorities. However, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, said the Ocasio-Cortez phenomenon is limited to the candidate's district, dismissing suggestions that the entire party is tilting to the left. Pelosi apparently fears that such a trend could alienate moderate centrists from the Democrats, eventually causing a split within the party.

That Obama supporters remain fanatic about the former president demonstrates that the Democratic Party lacks a strong candidate who can defeat Trump in the next 2020 presidential election.

(Japanese original by Kota Takamoto, North America General Bureau)

This is Part 3 and last of a series.

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