President Barack Obama attended a rally For Senator Bob Casey, Governor Tom Wolf, and Pennsylvania Democrats at The Dell on Sept. 21, 2018.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
President Barack Obama attended a rally For Senator Bob Casey, Governor Tom Wolf, and Pennsylvania Democrats at The Dell on Sept. 21, 2018.

Former President Barack Obama warned Democrats against sitting out the midterm elections during a North Philadelphia rally Friday for U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, Gov. Wolf, and the party's other candidates in Pennsylvania.

He singled out young, African American, and Latino voters amid concern that the traditional drop in turnout from presidential years could harm the Democratic Party's chances of gaining ground in Congress and statehouses amid low approval ratings for President Trump.

And he chided Trump, without naming him, for bragging about improving economic conditions that started before the Republican moved into the White House last year.

"So when you hear right now, folks, right now, taking credit for this economic miracle, c'mon, they act like it all just started. Please," Obama told a raucous crowd of about 5,000 at the Dell Music Center.

It was the second engagement in a presidential proxy battle. Just under two months ago, Trump whipped up fans at a Wilkes-Barre rally for Casey's opponent, four-term U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta of Hazleton.

The former president praised Casey's personal decency and recalled how he was an early backer of Obama's White House ambitions,

"I love me some Bob Casey," Obama said. "He's been in Washington a long time, and he stayed nice, which is hard to do."

Obama also hailed Wolf for expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, getting health coverage for 700,000 people. He called for voters to protect that program, and contrasted Democratic policies with the divisive politics of the Trump era.

President Barack Obama, center, attended a rally for Senator Bob Casey, left, and Governor Tom Wolf, right, and Pennsylvania democrats at The Dell on Sept. 21, 2018.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
President Barack Obama, center, attended a rally for Senator Bob Casey, left, and Governor Tom Wolf, right, and Pennsylvania democrats at The Dell on Sept. 21, 2018.

Obama's emergence as a political surrogate started two weeks ago with a speech in Illinois, in which he cast Trump as "a symptom, not the cause" of political dysfunction in the country, and claimed that "the consequences of any of us sitting on the sidelines are more dire."

On Friday, he said at the Dell that the Trump tactic of asking law enforcement to target opponents is neither Republican nor Democratic, but "what they do in dictatorships."

He spoke three days after Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez told the Washington Post the party wants African American voters to know "we will never again take them for granted."

The Dell has a historically strong African American audience, and sits at the heart of a congressional district in which nearly 60 percent of the residents are black, so the rally is a sign the Democrats are seeking to energize a voter base that often skips midterm elections.

President Barack Obama is greeted as he walks on stage. Pres. Obama attended a rally For Senator Bob Casey, right, Governor Tom Wolf, and Pennsylvania Democrats at The Dell on Sept. 21, 2018.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
President Barack Obama is greeted as he walks on stage. Pres. Obama attended a rally For Senator Bob Casey, right, Governor Tom Wolf, and Pennsylvania Democrats at The Dell on Sept. 21, 2018.

Obama later appeared at a private fundraiser at the Warwick Hotel for Casey and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, where the range of suggested contributions started at $1,000 per person and topped out at $33,900.

An attendee who asked not to be identified said the two men teased each other about who was better one-on-one in basketball when they played together as senators. And Obama joked that having a friend in politics is like having a child in college because you're always writing checks.

Barletta, meanwhile, took advantage of the attention around Obama's visit to start airing a new campaign commercial, using Trump's put-down about Casey being asleep at the job to attack his record in the Senate.

Barletta also praised the drop in the black unemployment rate and zeroed in on illegal immigration to accuse Democrats of depressing wages by their tolerance of allowing undocumented workers in the country.

"If they really wanted to help the black community, they would be taking about stopping illegal immigration," Barletta said in an interview. "The Democrats have tried to brainwash minorities that because they have welfare and government programs, they are the best party for them. To help people, get them a job."

Barletta suggested the Obama visit showed Casey is worried about the election. He noted that Casey started televising campaign commercials before Memorial Day and "went negative" in August.

"I think the fact that a high-profile national figure has to spend time in Pennsylvania is indicative that Bob Casey has not been able to close out this race," Barletta said. "He knows what we know, which is that this race is closing."

An average of polls compiled by the website Real Clear Politics shows Casey with a 14.3 percent lead over Barletta. Campaign finance reports filed in mid-July show Casey with $9.8 million in the bank, compared with $1.6 million for Barletta.

President Barack Obama greets the crowd after speaking. Pres. Obama attended a rally For Senator Bob Casey, Governor Tom Wolf, and Pennsylvania Democrats at The Dell on Sept. 21, 2018.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
President Barack Obama greets the crowd after speaking. Pres. Obama attended a rally For Senator Bob Casey, Governor Tom Wolf, and Pennsylvania Democrats at The Dell on Sept. 21, 2018.