NEWARK – Barack Obama probably doesn’t know Jack Ciattarelli all that well, if at all, but he knows one thing.
“You can bet he’s not going to be a champion of democracy,” the former president said of Ciattarelli at a Democratic rally this evening in Weequahic Park.
The former president was well-briefed.
A Phil Murphy campaign ad attacks Ciattarelli for speaking at a “Stop the Steal” rally in Bedminster (Donald Trump’s New Jersey hometown) after last year’s election.
Ciattarelli, who at times has tried to distance himself from Trump during the campaign, has said he was invited to the rally, but didn’t know what it was really about.
“Come on, man,” said an incredulous Obama, who noted (correctly) that some in the audience that November day were waving Confederate flags. This, the former president said, certainly wasn’t a meeting of the League of Women Voters.
He also mocked then-Raritan Councilman Ciattarelli for supporting a seemingly bizarre measure to ban public cursing in the borough.
That, said Obama, is not New Jersey.
“Crazy s…,” yelled a guy in the audience.
Since this was a “get out the vote rally,” you knew Obama had to talk about voting.
And sure, the former president covered the basics of New Jersey’s new, early voting system and the need for those so inclined not to dawdle in mailing in their ballots. He said that if you leave your ballot sitting on your desk you’re liable to spill something on it; he said he’d probably spill sweet tea.
Then, Obama got around to ridiculing Republicans for trying to restrict access to voting. GOP-controlled states are doing this all over the country in the name of combating fraud.
Obama, like most Democrats, doesn’t buy it. He says they just want to make voting harder.
“What are they so afraid of?” he asked a crowd estimated at 2,000 in Weequahic Park on the city’s south side.
Then he answered his own question.
He said you limit voting when “you don’t have good ideas.”
As for Trump and other Republicans challenging election results, Obama told the crowd that he once lost an election for Congress in Illinois. He said he wishes he could have just claimed victory or complained about voting machines.
But he didn’t. He said the lesson he took out of that losing campaign was simply to do better next time.
Obama rattled off many of Murphy’s achievements, including a higher minimum wage, money for women’s health services and steps to fight climate change.
That was all well and good, but the rally wasn’t about that. The idea was to rally the troops.
The prevailing view is that Republicans are more interested in this year’s election than the Democrats are.
One of the preliminary speakers was Rep. Donald Payne, who seemed unimpressed with the intensity of the crowd.
“This is a rally, not a funeral,” he said.
The good news for the Dems is that there are many more of them. As Murphy repeated tonight – “our team is bigger than their team.”
Obama showed no patience for Democratic voters who may be weary with politics. He acknowledged the tribal and divisive character of public life today, but said that’s no excuse.
He told again a story about meeting a woman who was 106-years-old when he first ran for president in 2008. She never missed voting in an election.
“We can’t afford to be tired,” Obama said.