Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has had the "luxury of being a complete long shot" so far in the race to be the U.S. Democratic presidential candidate, President Barack Obama said in an interview published by Politico on Monday.
Obama said both Sanders and Clinton, his former Secretary of State, share similar views on core issues like income inequality, but said Clinton faces the disadvantage of being a well-known commodity "in a culture in which new is always better."
"I think Bernie came in with the luxury of being a complete long shot and just letting loose," Obama said in the interview with the political news website. "I think Hillary came in with the both privilege and burden of being perceived as the front-runner," he said.
Obama lauded Clinton's experience, saying it will help her govern if she wins, but he described her campaign as "cautious."
"Her strengths, which are the fact that she’s extraordinarily experienced, and, you know, wicked smart and knows every policy inside and out, sometimes could make her more cautious and her campaign more prose than poetry," he said.
The interview was the first time Obama has discussed in detail the Democratic race to replace him, and it comes just ahead of the first contests to pick a nominee for the November election: Iowa, on Feb. 1, and New Hampshire, on Feb. 9.
He did not explicitly endorse a candidate, and mentioned only once in passing Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, who trails in polls.
Sanders has surged in recent polls in Iowa and leads Clinton in New Hampshire. If Sanders wins either state, he will face the kind of intense scrutiny the media has long given Clinton, Obama said.
"You're going to dig into his proposals and how much they cost and what does it mean, and, you know, how does his tax policy work and he's subjected, then, to a rigor that hasn't happened yet," Obama said.
Obama also said he thought Sanders would need to broaden his message to continue to succeed in the campaign.
"I will say that the longer you go in the process, the more you’re going to have to pass a series of hurdles that the voters are going to put in front of you, because the one thing everybody understands is that [with] this job right here, you don’t have the luxury of just focusing on one thing," he said.
Although he did not voice support for either candidate, Obama did laud Clinton for her tenacity in facing additional challenges as a woman in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary.
"I mean, we had as competitive and lengthy and expensive and tough primary fight as there has been in modern American politics, and she had to do everything that I had to do, except, like Ginger Rogers, backwards in heels. She had to wake up earlier than I did because she had to get her hair done. She had to, you know, handle all the expectations that were placed on her. She had a tougher job throughout that primary than I did and, you know, she was right there the entire time and, had things gone a little bit different in some states or if the sequence of primaries and caucuses been a little different, she could have easily won," the president said.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)
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