Former US President Barack Obama returned to the campaign trail on Thursday, railing against the "politics of division" after keeping a low profile and avoiding direct confrontation with his White House successor since leaving office.
Speaking at a rally in New Jersey to support the Democratic Party candidate for governor, the 56-year-old former president took aim at the fear and bitterness that marked the 2016 campaign which led to Donald Trump's presidency.
"What we can't have is the same old politics of division that we have seen so many times before, that dates back centuries," Obama said at the event in Newark for Phil Murphy.
He further added: "Some of the politics we see now, we thought we put that to bed. That's folks looking 50 years back. It's the 21st century, not the 19th century."
Obama later appeared at an event in Richmond to support Ralph Northam, his party's gubernatorial candidate in Virginia, at which he obliquely criticized the way Trump gained the White House.
"If you have to win a campaign by dividing people, you're not going to be able to govern them. You won't be able to unite them later," Obama said.
In parallel, he mentioned: "We are at our best not when we are trying to put people down, but when we are trying to lift everybody up."
Voters in both New Jersey and Virginia will decide the contests on November 7, one year after Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton and stormed into the White House on a wave of anti-establishment fury.
The races are potential indicators of voter sentiment ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, which will be a major test for Trump and his Republican Party.
The few times Obama broke his silence was to comment on issues of national importance, such as immigration, health care and climate change.
In New Jersey, Murphy is the clear frontrunner to succeed Republican Governor Chris Christie, a Trump ally whose popularity has plummeted to record lows.
New Jersey "is a runaway win for the Democrats, so Virginia is the only competitive contest. Obama is needed much more in Richmond than Trenton," said Sabato, referring to the capitals of the two states.
Virginia is a pivotal state and the only southern US state that Clinton won in 2016. Its importance is amplified by its proximity to the capital Washington.
"If the GOP loses in Virginia, Trump will be widely blamed since he is so unpopular in a state carried by Hillary Clinton," Sabato said.
Should Republicans win Virginia's governorship, "then Trump will not be viewed as such a liability for the GOP in 2018."
n Richmond, Obama backed Northam, the state's lieutenant governor who was credited Wednesday with a slight lead over Republican Ed Gillespie in a Quinnipiac poll.
Source: News Agencies, Edited by website team