"You need to vote because our democracy depends upon it", Obama told students as he accepted an ethics award.
President Barack Obama is set to receive an award on ethics in government from the University of IL on Friday, as he is set to begin campaigning for Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections.
"The threat to our democracy doesn't just come from Donald Trump", Obama said.
The former President opened up with a more traditional historical digression about the progress and missteps of American history, but it didn't take him long to name-drop Trump - something Obama has mostly avoided since he left office - saying that Trump is a "symptom, not the cause" of the hatred and anger now gripping parts of the country.
Obama stepped back into the political fray Friday, delivering a speech at the University of IL at Urbana-Champaign. Not follow them. We're supposed to stand up to discrimination, and we're sure as heck supposed to stand up clearly and unequivocally to Nazi sympathizers. Not the cause. He's just capitalizing on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years.
Obama said what's happening in American politics is not "conservative".
Trump told supporters in Montana on Thursday that Republicans needed to maintain control of Congress to stave off possible impeachment proceedings against him.
Obama argued that voters across the political spectrum can serve as a check on Trump and accused administration officials and Republicans of failing to serve as a check on the president's worst impulses. "How hard can that be, saying that Nazis are bad?"
In August, Obama endorsed 81 Democratic contenders in 14 states, emphasizing young, diverse candidates running for state-level offices in an attempt to help new party leaders establish themselves.
This post has been updated with additional comments from Obama's speech.
After the speech, Obama will travel to California and campaign for more than a half-dozen House Democratic candidates at an event in Orange County.
That speech, in the eyes of Obama's team, was not a preview of the former President's midterm message.
Obama is also expected to campaign in IL and Pennsylvania later this month and headline a fundraiser for the National Democratic Redistricting Committee in New York City, which is looking to reverse gerrymandering that has helped Republicans in some congressional districts.
And Republicans welcomed Obama's return to the campaign trail on Friday, arguing he is the best weapon they have to motivate their base.
The ex-president has kept a low profile since he left office in 2017 until now.
"These are not ordinary times, these are unsafe times", the former president, who since leaving office has avoided direct attacks on Trump, said during a speech at the University of IL.