Obama campaigning in Va, NJ, as he returns to political life

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The former President took the stage Thursday for his first campaign event since leaving office, a canvas kickoff for Phil Murphy, the Democratic candidate for Governor of New Jersey, and Sheila Oliver, who is running as his lieutenant Governor, in Newark Thursday.

At the rally in Richmond, Virginia, Obama said modern politics was not reflecting basic American values of inclusiveness and was doing the opposite by driving people away from the process.

"Folks don't feel good right now about what they see, they don't feel as if our public life reflects our best", Obama said.

Without even mentioning President Trump by name, Mr. Obama said New Jersey voters can send a clear message that "we are rejecting the politics of division, we are rejecting a politics of fear, that we are embracing a politics that says everybody counts, a politics that says everybody deserves a chance, a politics that says everybody has dignity and worth, a politics of hope - that is what you are fighting for!"

"I don't know if y'all noticed, but you can't take any election for granted", Obama said, "I don't care what the polls say".

In the political battleground of Virginia, polls show a close contest between Democrat Ralph Northam, the state's lieutenant governor, and Republican Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman who has been endorsed by Mr Trump.

"No matter who comes in to campaign for Phil Murphy, no matter whether they're rock stars or political stars, it's not going to change the fact that Phil Murphy is completely out of touch with the people he wants to represent", she said. "You won't be able to unite them later if that's how you start", Obama told the crowd of thousands at the Greater Richmond Convention Center. Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, is running against Republican Ed Gillespie.

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"Some of the politics we see now, we thought we put that to bed".

It was Gillespie's ads, which critics have said veer into racial fear-mongering, that drew the strongest rebuke from Obama on Thursday night.

"Yes and yes - because he is popular", Mr. Nelson said. "I'm ready to fight for you to be the 73rd Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia", Northam said while introducing Mr. Obama.

Obama's rallies hope to increase Democratic turnout in New Jersey and Virginia. "There is a sense of urgency that makes this moment different than others and former President Obama has continued to be directly in Trump's line of fire - both his policies and his legacy".

On the issue of Confederate statues, which were pushed to the forefront of the campaign after this summer's violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Gillespie has acknowledged the South was "on the wrong side of history" by fighting to preserve slavery, but has said he believes statues should stay up and be put in proper historical context. "We don't rise up by repeating the past, we rise up by learning from the past".

Thursday's rally was created to energize voters who favor democrats in an off year election. "You can't take anything for granted; you can't sit this one out", Obama said. "That's folks looking 50 years back; it's the 21st century, not the 19th century", he said.