WASHINGTON (Circa) --Former President Barack Obama is hitting the campaign trail after taking a brief hiatus since the 2016 presidential election took place. On Wednesday, the 44th commander-in-chief announced 81 candidates he's endorsing across 14 states in the highly anticipated 2018 midterm elections in November.
The list includes mostly candidates competing in down-ballot state races in places like Ohio, North Carolina, Texas and Pennsylvania. But he also recognized 20 House candidates as part of an ongoing party strategy to take one of the chambers from Republican control.
"He's really interested in building the Democratic party back up and kind of rebuilding a bench and he's still kind of very romantic about the young candidates who come up and have a lot of energy, " said Jesse Lee, the former director of rapid response and special assistant to President Obama. "I think the other thing is a recognition that a lot of structural problems in the country go back to redistricting, which is done by these local candidates and state legislatures."
A focus on state races means that some bigger names didn't make the cut, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the democratic socialist who swept the county last month after beating out 10-year incumbent, Rep. Joe Crowley. But don't read too much into that, Lee says.
"Most of these endorsements are focused on genuinely contested races, and that's just a heavily blue district, so I don't think there's any personal problem with her. In fact, most of the mainstream Democrats I've talked to have been really inspired by her."
Check out: Who is Ocaso-Cortez?
The only Senate race Obama did weigh in was in Nevada, a state where it's possible for Democrats to pick up an extra seat. As for the other senators running in 2018, Lee says it's already pretty clear where Obama stands.
"To some extent, I think where Obama and the senators stand is probably less of a mystery," he continued. "There's a long track record. No body thinks that Obama and Casey secretly hate each other or something. In one sense, though, there's less need to put those races on the map whereas part of what he views as opportunity with these endorsements is bringing attention to people that might not be on the national radar or even on the radar of their own potential constituents."
Since this is the first wave of endorsements Obama unveiled, it's unlikely that this is the last you'll hear from him. He's already signaled that more endorsements are on the way, and he'll likely hit the campaign trail in the fall.
Kelli Smith contributed to this report.