Obama to Democrats in Miami: ‘I want us to run scared’

President Barack Obama is greeted by, from left, Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez upon arriving at Miami International Airport on Friday.
President Barack Obama is greeted by, from left, Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez upon arriving at Miami International Airport on Friday. AP

President Barack Obama might have thought that, by this point, Democrats would have already settled on a nominee to try to follow him into the White House. That way, Obama would be free to traverse the country to defend his legacy and support his preferred successor.

Instead, it’s the first week of June, and Hillary Clinton is still fending off Bernie Sanders, at least until Tuesday, when she’s expected to reach the magic number of delegates to make her the party’s choice.

So when Obama traveled to Miami on Friday to raise money for Democrats, he couldn’t devote himself to bragging about a specific presidential candidate who will be on the Nov. 8 ballot.

What he did instead was boast about his own record, particularly on the economy.

“If what you’re deeply concerned about is the state of the middle class and the ability of people to work hard and get ahead and pass on opportunities to your kids and your grandkids — if that’s what you’re concerned about, then this election shouldn’t be close,” Obama said at a fundraiser held at the Coconut Grove home of attorney Robert Rubenstein.

Republicans, he continued, have not offered a “coherent economic theory” but rather rhetoric that “is feeding resentments.”

“So being able to say that it’s immigrants or it’s gays or it’s somebody that is taking something away from you — that’s the essence of the message that the Republican nominee is delivering, and frankly has been the message that’s been delivered by this Republican Congress for too long,” he said. “And it’s divisive, and it’s factually wrong.”

While the Democratic primary has dragged on, most Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, have begrudgingly accepted Donald Trump as their standard-bearer. Polls show a tight race in Florida; the most recent survey, published Friday by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, found Clinton leading Trump 45-42 percent.

Democrats should take the election seriously, Obama said: “I want us to run scared the whole time.”

Obama mentioned Trump by name once, referring to how much TV news coverage Trump gets. He also decried violent protesters at a Trump rally Thursday night in San Jose, California.

“That’s not what our democracy is about,” Obama said. “That’s not what you do. There’s no room for violence. There’s no place for shouting. There’s no room for a politics that fails to at least listen to the other side, even if you vehemently disagree.”

Obama seemed to enter the campaign fray in earnest Wednesday, when he delivered a speech on the economy in Elkhart, Indiana. first lady Michelle Obama also alluded to Trump in a commencement speech Friday at City College of New York: “Here in America, we don’t give in to our fears,” she said. “We don’t build up walls to keep people out because we know that our greatness has always depended on contributions from people who were born elsewhere but sought out this country and made it their home.”

Stumping in Redding, California, on Friday, Trump called Obama a “disaster.”

“He’s divided the country,” he said. “He’s been a terrible president. Hillary Clinton will be worse.”

Across the country in Miami, 90 donors attended Obama’s Grove dinner, which was billed as perhaps Obama’s final local fundraiser as president. Each person had paid at least $10,000. Attendees included former Gov. Charlie Crist, now a congressional candidate in St. Petersburg; musician Emilio Estefan; and DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Obama praised the Weston congresswoman, who faces a primary challenge from Tim Canova, a candidate recently backed by Clinton opponent Bernie Sanders. “She’s had my back,” said Obama, who backs her reelection. “I want to make sure we have her back.”

Earlier, Obama sat in a “roundtable” discussion at the Miami Beach home of businessman and former Ambassador to Singapore Steven Green. It was a fundraiser for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is backing U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter in the Aug. 30 primary. That event was closed to reporters. Tickets were $19,400 per person, and Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida and Ron Wyden of Oregon also attended, according to a DSCC official.

Murphy, whose chief rival is U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson of Orlando, is seen as a front-runner in the competitive race to replace Republican Marco Rubio — a contest that could determine which party controls the Senate next year. Obama gave Murphy a shout-out in the Grove: “I think he’s going to be outstanding in the United States Senate.”

The National Republican Senatorial Committee cast Obama’s foray into Murphy’s race as an attempted “bailout” of the candidate, who had a rocky past month, when he was forced to explain inconsistencies in his résumé. The Republican Party of Florida said Obama’s intervention was a sign of “disunity” in the Democratic ranks.

Obama’s motorcade and a late afternoon downpour did a number on Miami’s Friday rush-hour traffic after Air Force One landed at Miami International Airport after 4 p.m.

He departed four hours later for Palm City, in Martin County, where he plans to spend the weekend — and probably play golf.

Herald/Times staff writer Kristen M. Clark contributed to this report from Tallahassee, and McClatchy White House correspondent Lesley Clark contributed from Washington.