Former U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to roll into downtown Newark on Thursday to campaign for the Democratic New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy as the battle to run New Jersey heats up in the race's final weeks. 

Obama's appearance in New Jersey's largest city less than three weeks before the Nov. 7 election on behalf of Murphy is significant for multiple reasons. 

A demonstration of political star power, it is also a sign that the contest between Murphy and his Republican rival, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno is directly in the cross hairs of national political observers, who see the Garden State governor's race as part of a referendum on the leadership of GOP President Donald Trump. 

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Obama is no stranger to Newark. The 44th U.S. President pushed for a bipartisan overhaul of the American criminal justice system in a speech at Rutgers-Newark in November 2015. 

Murphy is also no stranger to Newark. The former U.S. Ambassador to Germany and retired Goldman Sachs executive launched his campaign early, in May 2016, campaigning in the state's largest city well before potential rivals, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop or state Senate President Steve Sweeney, had an opportunity to jump into the race. 

Fulop and Sweeney unexpectedly withdrew their names from gubernatorial contention by October, which cleared a path for Murphy among party insiders, who closed ranks around the candidate last fall on the steps in front of the Essex County Historic Courthouse in Newark.

Obama will join Murphy and Democratic Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, a Newark native, for a kickoff rally at the Robert Treat Hotel in downtown Newark. The historic hotel, owned by prominent Newark real estate developer Miles Berger, has been the site of numerous recent events in support of Murphy, including the victory rally following Murphy's triumph in the June Democratic primary.

Thursday's rally at the Robert Treat will be far from the first time that Obama and Murphy have met. In fact, while few New Jerseyans had heard of Murphy when he announced his run for governor of New Jersey last May, he was already well-known in national Democratic circles. 

In 2006, Murphy was tapped by then-Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean to chair the fundraising arm of the national party, where he raised close to $300 million over a three year period, including during Obama's victorious 2008 presidential campaign. 

Murphy was later appointed by Obama as U.S. Ambassador to Germany, where he served from 2009 to 2013.