President Obama is defending Hillary Clinton's campaign for the White House against a spirited challenge from Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), saying that his former secretary of state has been burdened by her status as the Democratic favorite.
Sanders could face the same scrutiny, Obama said in a new interview with Politico, if he breaks through with a victory in the Democratic caucus in Iowa next week or in the first primary, in New Hampshire.
"If Bernie won Iowa or won New Hampshire, then you guys are going to do your jobs and, you know, you're going to dig into his proposals and how much they cost and what does it mean," Obama said of the news media, "and, you know, how does his tax policy work and he's subjected, then, to a rigor that hasn't happened yet, but that Hillary is very well familiar with."
Obama made his most extensive comments about the 2016 campaign in his interview with Politico's Glenn Thrush for the "Off Message" podcast. He offered support to Clinton, whose campaign, which has strong support in national polls, has lost ground to Sanders in the first two states where voters will go to the polls.
"Hillary is tough and she has been through this before and she could anticipate it," Obama said. "If you are a front-runner, then you are under more scrutiny and everybody is going to pick you apart."
Yet the president dismissed suggestions that the Democratic primary is setting up as a replay of the 2008 campaign, when his own upstart bid for the presidency stunned Clinton with a resounding victory in Iowa. "I don't think that's true," Obama said when Thrush asked about comparisons between Sanders and himself.
The president described Clinton as "extraordinarily experienced" and said she knows "every policy inside and out." That, he said, "could make her more cautious, and her campaign more prose than poetry."
By contrast, Sanders, Obama said, "came in with the luxury of being a complete long shot and just letting loose. I think Hillary came in with the both privilege — and burden — of being perceived as the front-runner. … You’re always looking at the bright, shiny object that people haven’t seen before — that's a disadvantage to her.”