Obama urges Democrats to vote for Abrams in ‘most important election of my lifetime’

Former President Barack Obama rallies voters to support Democrat Stacey Abrams in Atlanta. AJC/Alyssa Pointer.

Former President Barack Obama rallies voters to support Democrat Stacey Abrams in Atlanta. AJC/Alyssa Pointer.

Oprah Winfrey and Mike Pence were the warm-up acts. The next three days will bring even bigger names to Georgia in the closing days of the race for governor.

Former President Barack Obama headlined an event Friday evening on Morehouse College's campus for Democrat Stacey Abrams, who is in a neck-and-neck race against Republican Brian Kemp for the state's top office.

Our article with a complete report from the Obama rally is linked here.

Here are live updates:

8:30 P.M. And with that, after nearly an hourlong speech, Obama wraps up. A huge crowd gathers near the ropeline trying to take selfies with the president.

Photos: Barack Obama campaigns with Stacey Abrams

8:25 P.M. Obama predicts a "great awakening of citizenship" from people-fed up with Republican leadership.

“This is America. This isn’t some half-baked backwater.”

8:15 P.M. Again without mentioning President Donald Trump, Obama warned of  a society where "societies can't function, marriages can't function, friendships can't function if when you say something it doesn't mean anything." 

“When words stop meaning something, when people start making things up, democracy can’t work,” he said.

8:10 P.M. Obama took a dig at Kemp for skipping the final televised debate on Sunday to attend a rally with President Donald Trump.

“What is he afraid of?”

8 P.M.

Former President Barack Obama on Friday blasted Republican Brian Kemp for not stepping down as the state’s chief elections official as he runs for Georgia’s highest office, as he touted Stacey Abrams’ “more hopeful vision” of government.

Without mentioning Kemp by name, he said the secretary of state was among Republicans “trying to disenfranchise people and take away the right to vote.”

“If you’re aspiring to the highest office in the state ... how can you actively try to prevent citizens from your state from exercising their most basic right?” Obama asked.

“They’re trying to disenfranchise you and take away the right to vote. Stacey’s opponent has already been caught multiple times ...” he said, as boos echoed in the crowded arena. “Don’t boo. Vote. They don’t care about your boos. They care about your vote.”

Kemp has repeatedly refused to step down as secretary of state, pointing to Democratic predecessors that stayed in the role while seeking higher office. He also said he would direct a recount in the governor’s race if one is required.

Obama also took aim at national Republicans, blasting Donald Trump without invoking his name for “trying to scare you with all sorts of bogeymen, trying to scare you with all kinds of divisive issues.”

Trumpeting Abrams’ platform, he assailed the “repeated, constant, incessant, nonstop attempts to divide us” from Republicans in the final days of the race.

“Rhetoric that is designed to make us angry, and make us fearful,” he said, describing them as designed “to make us believe that things will be better if it just weren’t for those who don’t like us or don’t pray like we do or don’t love like we do.”

He added: “It’s an old playbook. Georgia, we’ve seen this before. I would have liked to think we were past it.”

He called Abrams the “most experienced, most qualified” candidate in the race, a shot at Trump’s assertion that Kemp is best suited for the office.

“I know that sometimes for some reason women do all the work and men try to take the credit,” he said. “Come on, you know I’m right.”

And he exhorted Democrats to surge to the polls on Tuesday, calling the midterm vote the “most important election of our lifetime.”

“And that’s saying something,” he added, “because some of those elections were mine.”

7:38 P.M. It's Obama time: The former president takes the stage to ear-splitting cheers. Chants of "Yes we can" echo throughout the packed arena.

7:30 P.M. Democrat Stacey Abrams drew raucous cheers from thousands of Democrats with her pledge to expand Medicaid, push for gun restrictions and bring a "safer Georgia" if she wins next week's election against Republican Brian Kemp.

“We are ready to close the gap between struggle and success, a gap that’s too often overlooked by our leaders who forget where they came from,” she said, adding to cheers: “I want you to hear me clearly: As a woman of faith, I will never legalize discrimination in Georgia.”

She said she’d “never shirk from or hide from her responsibilities” and oversee a transparent administration. And she pleaded to the crowd to “knock on more doors and make more phone calls” and sign up to volunteer over the next four days.

“And if you can take a day off from work,” she said, “we will put you to work.”

She described Obama as an inspiration who helped provide healthcare to tens of millions of Americans and defied conventional wisdom by winning the presidential election in 2008.

“When others dared say no, he told us all, ‘Yes we can.’”

6:50 P.M.  Chants of "vote, vote, vote" rang out during the speech of civil rights icon John Lewis, a U.S. House member who is one of Abrams' earliest supporters.

“I’m asking you to go and vote like you’ve never voted before. We have to vote,” said Lewis, later exhorting the crowd: “You can do it. You can do it. And we must do it.”

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder speaks during a rally for gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams in Forbes Arena at Morehouse College, Friday, November 2, 2018.  (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

icon to expand image

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

6:35 P.M. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder warned Democrats of a "systematic effort" to disenfranchise voters and assailed Brian Kemp for not resigning his post as secretary of state.

“That’s like LeBron James suiting up for the Lakers and telling everyone he wants to referee the game,” he said. “LeBron’s actually better qualified than this guy – I just want to make that clear.”

Holder said Republicans have undermined the electorate with “shameless acts of voter and political suppression” and false claims of voter fraud.

“The system is rigged. The system is rigged. The system is rigged,” said Holder, a potential 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful who rails against gerrymandering. “There has been a systematic effort to cripple our democracy and disenfranchise those who do not subscribe to certain political views.”

Citing lawsuits targeting Kemp’s elections oversight, Holder said the Republican “wants to rig the system.”

“He’s trying to do everything he can to rig the system,” he said. “They’re trying to rig it, but we can overcome it by voting.”

6:20 P.M.: "We won't give in to Trump's baiting."

That came from a fundraising plea sent by Abrams’ campaign an hour before Obama was set to take the stage, and it’s a preview of how she’s likely to respond to the Republican’s visit to Macon on Sunday.

Abrams has largely avoided pummeling Trump, wary of turning this race into a referendum on his performance, and her campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo echoed that strategy in the release.

“Stacey is staying focused on the issues Georgia families care about, like excellent schools, good-paying jobs, and quality accessible health care,” she wrote. “THAT is how we're going to win this election.”

6 P.M. Obama's visit was meant to boost the entire Democratic ticket, but the handful of candidates he personally endorsed tried to get an extra jolt out of the event.

Among them was Sarah Riggs Amico, the party’s nominee for lieutenant governor, who stood with a half-dozen down-ticket candidates who also received the former president’s blessing.

She said sweeping Democratic wins next week will tell the nation that “Georgia, the birthplace of the civil rights movement, will continue to lead this nation forward in progress.”

“Because you see as Democrats we understand how to build an economy that works for everyone,” she said, “and we know that after 14 years of Republican leadership in Georgia they’re not good enough to stay in office let alone get a promotion.”

5:45 P.M.: Just about every major Georgia Democratic figure has filed into the fast-crowding arena.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and state Democratic Party chair DuBose Porter gave rousing appeals to vote. Ex-U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young chatted with voters, and candidates for statewide and down-ticket offices dotted the crowd.

The Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor of the famed Ebenezer Baptist Church and a potential candidate for U.S. Senate, offered an emotional testament to Abrams. And former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder got a roar of applause as he entered the arena.

One face that we haven’t seen so far: Former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, an Obama confidante who was a top surrogate for him during his presidential campaigns.

4:50 P.M.: The room is starting to fill up ahead of Obama's speech. But first, roughly 6,000 people have to get through the long line outside.

The program is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. See the 12:30 p.m. update below for a preview of what to expect.

3:38 P.M.: The line to get into the Georgia Democrats' event featuring former President Barack Obama is so long, it stretches from Morehouse College well onto the campus of neighboring Clark Atlanta University.

LaWanda Quarles and her friends arrived at 8 a.m. just to be near the front. She said they spent much of the day laughing and joking with each other and strangers in line, “making the best of their situation.”

Quarles, who lives in Lithia Springs, and her friends Carnisha Hamilton and Latonya Young have been volunteering with Stacey Abrams’ campaign. They say tonight will be a chance to both support the candidate and hear from the popular former president.

Young, of Fairburn, wore a t-shirt that said, “Team Abrams/Team Obama.”

Hamilton, who lives in Smyrna, said it was important for Obama to come to Atlanta and lend his clout the gubernatorial candidate and other Democrats.

“He has so many people who love him and he is just a positive role model,” she said.

Doors open at 4 p.m.

12:30 P.M.: We got our hands on the order of show for tonight's "Our Chance. Our Choice. Our Georgia" rally, or at least the most recent version. This is an overview, but remember that things could change.

We’re told that some Democratic candidates for General Assembly and others will grace the stage during a pre-show. But state party chairman DuBose Porter will officially kick things off at 5:30 p.m. with remarks, and Democratic candidates for statewide offices will join him on stage. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is also scheduled to bring greetings.

The candidates with speaking slots are gubernatorial hopeful Stacey Abrams, Sarah Amico, who is running for lieutenant governor, and two running for Congress: Carolyn Bourdeaux and Lucy McBath.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis and former Attorney General Eric Holder are also on the program. Former President Barack Obama will close the show with a 30-minute speech to begin at 7:25 p.m.

Programming note. Kemp is countering with his own heavyweight supporter: President Donald Trump will hold a rally for him in Macon on Sunday at 4 p.m. We'll have live updates from that event this weekend.

Also, please catch up on some of our coverage from the last two days: