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Obama's homestretch itinerary: On the campaign trail — and inside Trump's head

For nearly four years, the former president refrained from attacking his successor. As he took to the trail on Biden's behalf in the 2020 race's closing days, the gloves came off.
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ATLANTA — As the campaign clock ticked down to Election Day on Monday, former President Barack Obama was just warming up.

"What's Trump's closing argument right now?" Obama said at a drive-in campaign rally here for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Georgia's Democratic Senate candidates. "Last night on his Covid spreader tour, he's going around spreading Covid. He's like a carrier. He cares more about having big crowds than keeping people safe."

For nearly four years, Obama refrained from attacking his successor, respecting a time-honored tradition even as President Donald Trump launched hundreds of Twitter attacks against him. He kept largely silent as Trump falsely claimed that Obama had spied on his campaign, baselessly accused him of treason, demanded that he be prosecuted and characterized him as the most corrupt president in history.

His relative public silence about Trump's presidential performance drew criticism from some Democrats who had hoped to see him get off the sidelines during some of the most tumultuous years in recent American politics. While Obama campaigned for some Democrats during the 2018 midterm elections, his criticism of Trump was reserved, as he mostly avoided direct personal attacks against the president.

Last month, as the 44th president took to the trail to make his closing argument in behalf of his former vice president, the gloves came off. And in the campaign's final days, the hits have come hard and fast.

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His campaign speeches at Biden's events have focused on Trump's character, taking aim at his ego and portraying him as a president who has put himself before the country, often featuring jokes seemingly crafted to get under Trump's skin.

Obama has joked about Trump's insecurities. "He's still worried about his inauguration crowd being smaller than mine. It really bugs him. He's still talking about that. Does he have nothing better to worry about?" he said Saturday in Michigan. "Did no one come to his birthday party as a kid? Was he traumatized?"

He's taken a dig at Trump's laserlike focus on television ratings. "He's jealous of Covid's media coverage," Obama told voters in Orlando, Florida, last week.

And he's poked fun at Trump's thin skin. "You saw President Trump, he's in the middle of a '60 Minutes' interview," Obama said Monday in Atlanta. "He just walked out. Too tough. He quit in the middle of an interview."

Trump's behavior in office was so off-kilter, Obama said at a stop in Miami late last month, that he was outdoing the state's signature meme: "Florida Man wouldn't even do this stuff."

His itinerary has had him both trolling and trailing his chief target: Obama's event Monday in Atlanta came hours after Trump's rally Sunday night in Rome, Georgia, about an hour away, and he closed out his 2020 campaigning Monday night in Miami, a day after a midnight rally Trump held there Sunday.

Trump himself has taken notice.

Biden is "just angry and agitated, and he doesn't want to be there, and now he's starting to lose in the polls, and it's driving him crazy. So what does he do? He brings in Barack Hussein Obama," Trump said Sunday at a campaign rally in Dubuque, Iowa, putting a special emphasis on Obama's middle name.

"And you know what happened to his attendance? It went down. His attendance, it actually brought it down," he continued, referring to the size limits at socially distanced Biden campaign events — a theme he has hit multiple times in the final weeks of the race.

"Nobody is showing up for Obama's hate laced speeches," Trump tweeted shortly after Obama took to the trail in October, tweeting later that Obama was "drawing VERY small (tiny) numbers of people."

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The Biden campaign has wagered that people beyond crowds at events are watching, deploying Obama in the campaign's closing days to cities like Flint, Michigan; Detroit; Atlanta; and Miami — places with high populations of Black and Latino voters where Obama was positioned to reach people less enthusiastic about his vice president's run than they were about his own.

While Biden is leading among Black and nonwhite voters overall, the Trump campaign is working to chip into Biden's margins among Black and Hispanic men, hoping a small dent will be enough to keep Biden from winning in places like Georgia and Florida.

The theory isn't without recent precedent: Hillary Clinton's failure to turn out key demographics at the same rates Obama did helped make Trump's path to victory slightly easier in states like Michigan. Obama's trail trolling may have drawn Trump's attention — but he wasn't the chief intended audience.

"I know that there's still people out there who aren't voting. So I want to talk to you right now," Obama said Monday in Atlanta. "The answer isn't to stay home. It's to turn out like never before."