With so many issues at stake in the Nov. 8 midterm elections, former President Barack Obama said Saturday that he thinks the choice for voters boils down to just one question: “Who will fight for you?”

“That’s the choice in this election,” Obama said. “That’s why Democrats have an actual plan to take on the drug companies to lower prices, to pass laws to make housing more affordable, to make sure big corporations create jobs here in Pennsylvania instead of overseas.”

The former president rallied on a bright, blustery Saturday afternoon in Schenley Plaza with a packed crowd of more than 6,000 people, top Democratic officials and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate. The green space is located in the heart of the University of Pittsburgh campus, home to tens of thousands of potential young voters, and the city’s Oakland neighborhood.

The race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey appears to have tightened since this summer, with double-digit Fetterman leads narrowing to a statistical dead heat. Top Democrats have flooded into Pennsylvania, with a rally in Philadelphia planned for later Saturday featuring Fetterman, Obama and President Joe Biden.

Fetterman’s opponent, Republican celebrity physician Mehmet Oz, has also recently traveled to the Pittsburgh area, speaking Friday evening at The Chadwick in McCandless. Former President Donald Trump will rally Saturday evening in Latrobe with Oz and Republican gubernatorial candidate state Sen. Doug Mastriano.

Obama said Saturday that the election is critical for the country’s future, which requires “every single one of us to do our part.”

“I get why you might be worried about the course of our country. I get worried, too,” he said. “But I’m here to tell you, Pittsburgh, that tuning out’s not an option. Sulking and moping, that’s not an option.”

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee for Pennsylvania’s open U.S. Senate seat, speaks at a Saturday get-out-the-vote rally in Schenley Plaza in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood. (Jon Moss/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

The former president lamented what he described as the “poison” of demonizing political opponents and minority groups, citing the recent attack by a far-right intruder who broke into the home of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in what prosecutors say was a failed attempt to hurt or kidnap her.

“When you have people who are in leadership positions who promote or ignore over-the-top rhetoric — and then when there’s an attack like this, they make light of it, they joke about it — then more people are going to get hurt,” he said. “More than that, we violate the basic spirit of our democracy, the spirit of who we are as Americans.”

Obama said now is a time for Americans to come together, and unite behind candidates who know voters and stand “side-by-side with you.”

Fetterman said he will fight for anyone in Pennsylvania who’s ever been knocked down and worked to get back up again. He derided Oz as someone who’s out of touch with the reality faced by everyday Pennsylvanians.

“Inflation is a tax on all working people. You can’t fight inflation if you don’t ever experience and understand what inflation is,” he said. “You have 10 gigantic mansions? You don’t understand what we’re up against.”

One of Fetterman’s biggest applause lines was when he said that, as the potential 51st Democratic senator, he would vote to codify the right to an abortion. The U.S. Supreme Court revoked nationwide protections for the medical procedure in a controversial decision this summer.

“That choice belongs only between a woman and her doctor,” he said, contrasting his view with a remark Oz made during a late October debate that an abortion is between “women, doctors, local political leaders.”

With top candidates locked in a tight battle for Pennsylvania, both major political parties are pouring massive resources into the state.

Jaime Harrison, who chairs the Democratic National Committee, said Saturday that the DNC has quadrupled its spending, noting how important the state is to the party’s electoral chances.

“I want them to know right now, we are not going back. …” he said. “We’ll do whatever it is to make sure every voter, regardless of your background, every voter gets to have their voice and have it be heard.”

Jon, a copy editor and reporter at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is currently on strike and working as a co-editor of the Pittsburgh Union Progress. Reach him at jmoss@unionprogress.com.

Jon Moss

Jon, a copy editor and reporter at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is currently on strike and working as a co-editor of the Pittsburgh Union Progress. Reach him at jmoss@unionprogress.com.