Illinois Democrats made their big pitch to voters Sunday with a star-studded rally at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago, headlined by former President Barack Obama.
“The character of our nation is on the ballot,” Obama told the crowd.
The idea that Tuesday’s midterms represent a battle for the soul of America was a heavy theme that threaded throughout the rally, which featured a host of Illinois political figures and electoral hopefuls including Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, Secretary of State Jesse White, Comptroller Susana Mendoza, State Senator Kwame Raoul, and Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker.
“More and more people across this country are starting to realize that Nov 6th is about more than a slate of candidates, said Durbin. “It’s about choosing the course of this nation and rejecting hate and fear.”
“This election is about more than just kicking out Bruce Rauner,” state Rep Juliana Stratton, Pritzker’s running mate, told the crowd. “It’s about who we are as people… You have the ideas, you have the solutions for our state and all we need to do is listen and lift up your voices.”
For about two-and-a-half hours, Democratic candidates hoping to win on Tuesday made their case to the crowd, and encouraged people to spend the next 48 hours making calls, knocking on doors, and getting themselves and everyone they knew out to vote.
“Hope is still out there. We just have to stand up and speak for it,” said Obama, who made several callbacks to his 2008 election night rally in Grant Park, exactly ten years prior to his speech at UIC. “And in two days, Illinois, in two days, you get to vote in what might be the most important election of my lifetime, maybe more important than 2008.”
Grammy Award winning rapper and actor Common delighted the crowd with a set that went about 30 minutes before Pritzker and Obama took the stage.
“Let’s write a new story so there will be no more Laquan Mcdonalds,” Common said in between songs. “So there will be no more Trayvon Martins. So there will be no more Rekia Boyds.” He also pledged to “personally hold J.B. accountable” should he win the governor’s office.
While the rally had a tone more hopeful and positive than President Donald Trump’s campaign rallies, Democrats displayed no love for him onstage, highlighting his and other Republicans’ missteps over the years along with their xenophobia, racism, and misogyny.
“I’m a proud son of Haitian immigrants who did not come from an s-hole,” said Raoul, who went on to criticize Trump’s rhetoric and threats to take away birthright citizenship. “I’m a birthright baby.”
Nearly every speaker highlighted the contrast between Republican candidates adjacent to or directly aligned with Trump’s agenda and Democrats pushing for more progressive policies.
Pritzker told the crowd that hatred and misogyny have no place in America, and said that his opponent governor Bruce Rauner along with state Republicans have embraced Trump’s reactionary rhetoric.
Sean Casten, who’s in one of the closest contests in the nation with rival incumbent Peter Roskam for the 6th District, criticized his opponent for ignoring his constituents. “You know who I think is entitled? Someone who hasn’t held an open town hall in 10 years an.d thinks he deserves your vote,” he said of Roskam.
That Republicans, who control all three branches of the federal government, have ignored the will of the people in favor of enriching themselves while pushing an agenda that only helps their most devoted worshipers, was also on Obama’s mind.
“Cutting Medicaid and Medicare for working people to pay for tax cuts for rich people doesn’t sound like fighting for the little guy,” Obama said. “J.B. Pritzker isn’t gonna do that.”
While extremely hoarse, the former President spoke in a jovial manner and was casually charismatic. Obama got cheers and laughs when he took off his sportcoat and rolled up his sleeves. Though he lobbed plenty of heavy criticism at Republicans, some of them came with a smile.
“They pledged to fight corruption,” said Obama. “Well they’ve racked up enough indictments to field a football team.”
Before he closed the night, he told residents of Illinois not to be deceived by scare tactics and other right-wing rhetoric.
“Illinois – don’t be Charlie Brown with the football. Don’t be hoodwinked,” said Obama. “When words stop meaning anything, when people can tell the opposite of truth there are no consequences. Democracy cannot work.”