RICHMOND, Va. -- In his first public appearance in Richmond since leaving office, former President Barack Obama implored a crowd of more than 7,000 supporters to take November's election seriously. On November, Virginia's Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, and every seat in the House of Delegates is up grabs.
The 44th U.S. President spoke at the Richmond Convention Center in support of current Lt. Governor Ralph Northam, the democrat's gubernatorial candidate.
"We need you to take this seriously because our democracy is at stake, and it's at stake right here in Virginia," Obama said. "You are going to send a message, all across this great country and all around the world what it is that America stands for."
The Richmond rally was one of the first campaign speeches made by the former President since he left office in January. During his remarks, Obama did not mention his successor by name, but said he has been concerned by the state of politics in America.
"Instead of our politics reflecting our values, we've got politics infecting our communities," Obama said. "There are people all across this country that want to do things better; that want to work together."
The rally comes during what has been a tough week for the Northam campaign. Controversy over a campaign flyer that did not mention Lt. Governor candidate Justin Fairfax has swirled in the run up to the rally, and Republican opponent Ed Gillespie has all but eliminated the edge Northam had held in multiple polls this week.
A Christopher Newport University poll found the race was practically a dead heat, and Monmouth University poll gave Gillespie a one point lead.
"It's going to be a fight, it's not a cake walk, it's going to take all of us together... I'm ready to fight for you to be the 73rd Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia," Northam said while introducing Mr. Obama.
Gillespie, who has received the endorsement of President Donald Trump on Twitter, spent Thursday at numerous campaign events in Hampton Roads.
"I'm glad that [President Trump] came forward and said he supports me. He's the republican President; I'm the republican candidate for governor. I'm not surprised that Hillary Clinton endorsed Ralph Northam," Gillespie said in an interview with WTKR in Norfolk.
Mr. Obama attacked campaign ads run by the Gillespie campaign that show images of the MS-13 street gang and blames Northam's vote on a bill that would have banned sanctuary cities in Virginia for what the ad calls a rise in the gang's presence in Virginia. Obama called the ads "phony" and "divisive."
"You know Michelle and I get the same commercials in D.C. that y'all do here," Obama said. "I don't think that anybody really thinks that someone who spent his life performing surgery on soldiers and children suddenly is cozying up to street gangs."
During his remarks, Mr. Obama addressed the events in Charlottesville and the heated debate over what to do with Confederate monuments. Obama said Americans claim the good and bad of our history, adding that his own lineage has shown he is distantly related to Jefferson Davis.
"We can recognize that even if our past is not perfect, we can honor the constitutional ideas that have allowed us to come this far, and to keep moving toward a more perfect union. That's what America is; that's who we are," Obama said.
Thursday's rally was designed to energize voters who favor democrats in an off year election. Obama said democrats tend to "fall to sleep" during off year elections, and urged Virginians to held to the polls on November 7.
Virginia Republicans said that race will come down to records not rallies in a statement to CBS 6.
“It’s not surprising that Barack Obama is campaigning for Ralph Northam. But when all is said and done, Virginia voters will cast their ballots based on the policies and records of Ralph Northam and Ed Gillespie. Virginians will cast their ballots based on kitchen-table issues, not star power," said Garren Shipely, a Virginia spokesman for the Republican National Committee.
"Elections matter. Voting matter. You can't take anything for granted; you can't sit this one out," Obama said.