Barack Obama returns to the US political arena

Former US President Barack Obama has remained largely detached from the political debate since leaving office on January 20, in keeping with presidential tradition. (AFP)
Updated 19 October 2017
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Barack Obama returns to the US political arena

RICHMOND, United States: Barack Obama is returning to the political arena for the first time in months after keeping a low profile and avoiding direct confrontation with his White House successor.
The 56-year-old former president is scheduled to attend campaign rallies in New Jersey and Virginia on Thursday to support Democratic party candidates for governor.
Voters in both states will decide the gubernatorial contests on November 7, one year after Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton and stormed into the White House on a wave of anti-establishment fury.
The races are a potential indicator of voter sentiment ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, which will be a major test for Trump and his Republican party.
“There are only two big elections this year, for governor in NJ and VA,” political science professor Larry Sabato said.
“What’s at stake is bragging rights headed into the 2018 midterm elections,” Sabato said.
It is unclear what Obama’s message will be. The former US leader has remained largely detached from the political debate since leaving office on January 20, in keeping with presidential tradition.
Trump has meanwhile used his first nine months in the White House to methodically demolish key Obama administration policies.
After three months of vacation Obama began writing his memoirs. He has said little in public and granted almost no interviews.
The few times Obama broke his silence was to comment on issues of national importance, such as immigration, health care and climate change.
But the 44th president may be tempted on Thursday to take aim at Trump, who has frequently and publicly excoriated his predecessor.
In New Jersey, the post of governor will almost certainly go to Democrat Philip Murphy, who would succeed Chris Christie, a Trump ally whose popularity has plummeted to record lows.
New Jersey “is a runaway win for the Democrats, so Virginia is the only competitive contest. Obama is needed much more in Richmond than Trenton,” said Sabato, referring to the capitals of the two states.
Virginia is a pivotal state and the only southern US state that Clinton won in 2016. Its importance is amplified by its proximity to the US capital.
“If the GOP loses in Virginia, Trump will be widely blamed since he is so unpopular in a state carried by Hillary Clinton,” Sabato said.
“Should the Republicans win Virginia’s governorship, then Trump will not be viewed as such a liability for the GOP in 2018.”
In Richmond, Obama will back Ralph Northam, a former military doctor who was credited Wednesday with a slight lead over Republican Ed Gillespie in a Quinnipiac poll.
Obama’s impending arrival in the city of over 220,000 people sparked long lines of people seeking tickets to the campaign event.
Well aware of the importance of the vote, Trump has backed Gillespie and accused Northam of “fighting for the violent MS-13,” a Hispanic gang, as well as “sanctuary cities” that offer shelter to illegal immigrants.
Gillespie, a former adviser to president George W. Bush who has become a millionaire lobbyist, has so far kept a cautious distance from the mercurial Trump, whose backing recently failed to ensure the election of his pick in a Republican Senate race in Alabama.


Spanish police find no weapons in knife attacker’s home

Special police forces prepare to raid the apartment building of a man who attacked a police station in Cornella near Barcelona on Monday. (AFP)
Updated 37 min 18 sec ago
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Spanish police find no weapons in knife attacker’s home

MADRID: Police have not found any guns or explosives in the house of a man who allegedly attacked police officers with a knife in Barcelona before being shot dead, a senior official in Spain’s Catalonia region said Tuesday.
Authorities are investigating whether the suspect in Monday’s attack at the police station on the outskirts of Barcelona had links to terror groups, Catalan Interior Minister Miquel Buch said.
He told Catalan public radio that “as things stand” terrorism can’t be ruled out as a motive for the attack. Officials have not identified the dead suspect.
The investigation by police and intelligence services could last weeks, and the motive may not emerge until it’s concluded, Buch said in Catalan, according to Spanish news agency Europa Press.
Police were analyzing evidence collected during the house search.
Catalan police chief Andreu Joan Martinez said Tuesday the policewoman who shot the alleged attacker acted in a “proportionate, adequate” way, considering the “extremely serious situation” she faced.
The policewoman was the first person the attacker approached with a knife after gaining entry to the police station before dawn.
Martinez praised the policewoman and the sergeant near her for their quick response to the threat.
“That explains why today we’re not speaking about greater loss of life,” Martinez told a news conference in Barcelona.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Catalan police force’s largest labor group, Valentin Anadon, said in an interview with Europa Press that the policewoman told the attacker “about 10 times” to put down his knife before she opened fire.
Police haven’t released any video footage from inside the police station during the attack.