Former President Barack Obama will return to the political fray Thursday, headlining a rally for Ralph Northam in the Virginia governor race. Northam, a Democrat and currently Virginia’s lieutenant governor, is opposed by Ed Gillespie, a Republican who currently works as a lobbyist.
With Obama entering the fold, the race is gearing up to be a sort of popularity test pitting the former president against President Trump. Though Trump hasn’t endorsed Gillespie outright, he has tweeted an attack against Northam, and on Saturday, Vice President Pence is expected to campaign for him at a rally.
Polls for the Virginia governor race put Northam at a 6.8% lead, according to RealClear Politics, but some experts argue the numbers may not matter. Gillespie is a former Bush administration and Romney campaign staffer who is running a Trump-like campaign, despite the fact that he’s not received a thumbs-up from the president.
In light of the defeat of Luther Strange, Trump’s pick for Alabama’s Senate seat, some in the GOP are wondering how much Trump’s endorsement is worth, anyhow.
For Obama, however, the Virginia gubernatorial race will be the first test of his endorsement power, post-presidency. The 44th president ended his second term with a 60% approval rating, a high mark for modern presidents.