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Obama Rallies For Cordray To Reclaim Ohio


Former President Barack Obama is on the road again today campaigning for Democrats in the midterm elections. This time he's in Ohio, which was Trump country two years ago after Obama himself won the state twice. The former president is doing something he had trouble with in other midterm elections - trying to fire up the Democratic base without the name Obama at the top of the ballot. NPR's Don Gonyea reports from Cleveland.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: This is not a pitch to moderates or to independents fed up with President Trump. Barack Obama's appearance in a high school gym on Cleveland's East Side sends a clear message, according to former City Councilman Jeff Johnson, that the African-American voters here are important. Obama will be in the part of Cleveland known as Hough, an area that saw racial unrest more than 50 years ago.

JEFF JOHNSON: We had Hough riots. He is coming to Hough. This is an excellent, symbolic place for him to stand and be able to say, we have to be involved. This is not one we can sit out.

GONYEA: Obama is campaigning for candidate Richard Cordray, the Democratic nominee for governor who once headed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau created during the Obama administration. Cordray's opponent is Republican Mike DeWine, the state attorney general. Sixty-six-year-old retiree Beverly Pleasure says she's thrilled the former president is coming here and, as she puts it, he's back in the ring.

BEVERLY PLEASURE: I don't think he's ever came here and actually came to the hood. And I think that's a good thing.

GONYEA: And she thinks Obama will get people to sit up and realize they need to vote.

PLEASURE: And I think the fact that he is back in politics and is showing his face - that a lot of people will listen to him.

GONYEA: You think he's going to get Cordray some votes.

PLEASURE: Yes, I do.

GONYEA: But not everyone you talk to is so plugged in. Forty-nine-year-old Steve Bennett is a barber who works at a local shop just a couple of miles from where Obama will speak. Yesterday afternoon, he said he had no idea the former president was coming to town. He's been distracted a bit, he says.

STEVE BENNETT: A lot of football going on right now, so we're not into the political radio stations right now.

GONYEA: Bennett says he likes Obama and is glad he's out there talking about the issues. But then he says this about what it might mean as far as his vote goes.

BENNETT: I got to do some homework. You know, I'm not - I lean toward Democrats mostly, you what know I'm saying? But...

GONYEA: So how much influence does Obama coming to campaign for Cordray have on you?

BENNETT: Not much. I got to just really see what platform Cordray's on and what platform DeWine is on. I got to do my homework, you know?

GONYEA: Davida Russell is a longtime school bus driver and an officer in the Ohio public school employees' union. Voter turnout is not automatic, she says, even with Obama pitching in. And that's what keeps her up at night.

DAVIDA RUSSELL: They have to vote. They have to vote. And shame on us if we don't get them out. Shame on us if we don't get them out.

GONYEA: She and others also caution that a single visit by Obama alone won't do it. There has to be real follow-up, she says, in person and on the ground in this community, or it's just another big name coming to town and moving on. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Cleveland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.