WHITE HOUSE —
President Barack Obama walked a fine line in an apparent attempt to remain neutral in the race for the White House during a 40-minute interview in which he both praised and critiqued the top Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
Just as the historic blizzard began to set in over the nation’s capital, the president spoke from the Oval Office for Politico magazine’s Off Message podcast, broadcast on Monday, one week before the key Iowa caucus.It is the nation’s first major electoral event as parties seek to nominate their candidate for U.S. president.
Obama expressed implicit support for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, his former secretary of state and toughest opponent during Obama’s 2008 campaign for president.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is introduced during a campaign stop, Jan. 22, 2016, in Rochester, N.H.
Praise for Clinton
According to Off Message, he "repeatedly praised Clinton without reservation” during the wide-ranging conversation, although he also spoke about some of her vulnerabilities, like her speaking style.
The president offered more “tempered” support for her opponent, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, whom he sees more as a principled outsider than someone capable of dealing with the fierce demands of the presidency.
“[The] one thing everybody understands is that this job right here, you don’t have the luxury of just focusing on one thing,” said Obama, described by interviewer Glenn Thrush as “very relaxed,” his eyes often drawn to the falling snow outside.
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign event in Fort Dodge, Iowa, Jan. 19, 2016.
Obama’s successor to the White House may be critical to his legacy. The top Republican candidates in the Iowa caucus, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, have promised to roll back some of his key accomplishments, including the Affordable Care Act. Obama, who has been touting his accomplishments after his final State of the Union address earlier this month, has described the presidency as “a relay race” and whoever takes over the Oval Office can carry on his work or unravel some of it.
During debates and campaign appearances, Clinton has highly praised Obama while Sanders has said Obama has not done enough to prosecute Wall Street executives.
“Bernie came in with the luxury of being a complete long shot and just letting loose,” he said. “I think Hillary came in with the both privilege and burden of being perceived as the frontrunner… You’re always looking at the bright, shiny object that people haven’t seen before – that's a disadvantage to her,” Obama said.
Reminiscing about 2008
Obama also recalled his own time in Iowa during his first run for president.It was then that his 2008 campaign surged on his message of “hope and change.”He described it as “the most satisfying political period in my career.”
He hinted that his message then may still work well for candidates now.“My bet is that the candidate who can project hope still is the candidate who the American people, over the long term, will gravitate towards,” he said.