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Obama says his bet in 2016 election is on the candidate ‘who can project hope’

President+Barack+Obama+speaks+to+the+International+Association+of+Chiefs+of+Police+at+the+122nd+Annual+IACP+Conference+and+Exposition+in+Chicago+on+Oct.+27%2C+2016.
President Barack Obama speaks to the International Association of Chiefs of Police at the 122nd Annual IACP Conference and Exposition in Chicago on Oct. 27, 2016.

President Barack Obama speaks to the International Association of Chiefs of Police at the 122nd Annual IACP Conference and Exposition in Chicago on Oct. 27, 2016.

President Barack Obama speaks to the International Association of Chiefs of Police at the 122nd Annual IACP Conference and Exposition in Chicago on Oct. 27, 2016.

By Christi Parsons: Tribune Washington Bureau

President Barack Obama on Monday waded more deeply into the contentious Democratic primary race than he ever has, touting the strengths of both leading candidates while intimating that Hillary Clinton is the stronger contender.

A week before the Iowa caucuses open the nominating contests, he also predicted in an interview with Politico that no matter the party, the candidate “who can project hope” will ultimately prevail in succeeding him.

Obama spent more time in the interview listing Clinton’s strengths than rival Bernie Sanders’, but stayed away from anything resembling an endorsement. He acknowledged that some of Clinton’s chief assets are also her weaknesses, noting that she began the race with the “privilege and burden” of being perceived as the front-runner, and thus was under more scrutiny. But he also underscored Clinton’s message that she is liberals’ best hope for accomplishing policy change.

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“I think that what Hillary presents is a recognition that translating values into governance and delivering the goods is ultimately the job of politics, making a real-life difference to people in their day-to-day lives,” he said, adding that she, like Sanders, is also “idealistic and progressive.”

Her rival Sanders, meanwhile, arrived on the campaign trail with the luxury of being a long shot whose attitude is, “I’ve got nothing to lose,” as Obama put it, and Sanders immediately set up a contrast with Clinton.

“She is a good, smart, tough person who cares deeply about this country and she has been in the public eye for a long time and in a culture in which new is always better,” the president said of Clinton. “And, you know, you’re always looking at the bright, shiny object that people haven’t seen before.”

But the scrutiny will amp up for Sanders if he begins to win nominating contests, Obama told Politico during a somewhat nostalgic interview that recalled his win in the Iowa caucuses, which catapulted him to the front of the 2008 race. He labeled the monthslong effort leading to the victory as his favorite period of his political life.

Obama also said he hasn’t been trying to “stick my nose in” with political strategy, though he acknowledged that he knows Clinton, his former secretary of state, better than Sanders, the Vermont senator. Any of the Democratic candidates can ask him if they need advice, he said, and he reminded both candidates that one will eventually need the other’s supporters.

He also sought to minimize the division between Clinton and Sanders and urged voters to instead focus on the contrast between the leading Democratic candidates and their Republican counterparts, raising concern about the tenor of the GOP primary, about candidates who deny climate change and Donald Trump’s calls to ban Muslims from the country.

“My No. 1 priority is having a Democratic president succeed me,” Obama said during the Oval Office interview recorded as the first snowflakes of the winter blizzard began to fall last week.

With that on his mind, Obama seemed to be nudging the Democrats toward the winning message of his political rise.

“The candidate who can project hope still is the candidate who the American people, over the long term, will gravitate towards,” he said.

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