"Bernie came in with the luxury of being a complete long shot and just letting loose," Obama said, according to the interview with Politico's Glenn Thrush
, referring to Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator who is beating Clinton in some Iowa and New Hampshire polls. "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 rejected comparisons of Sanders campaign to his own 2008 White House bid when Obama famously took on Clinton and won.
"I don't think that's true," Obama said when asked whether Sanders is playing a similar role this year.
Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver told CNN that the senator's relationship to the President is "really good."
"They are very different people, but I think in terms of what people are seeing in Iowa, I think the similarity in Iowa is this, which is large numbers of young people are being motivated to come out to the polls, a lot of non traditional voters are motivated to come to the polls," Weaver said. "I think in terms of messaging of our chief opponent that seems to be very similar and I think that's reinforcing it as well: pie in the sky proposals, wrong experience, can't do foreign policy. These are all ... the attacks from 2008 on Obama.
In the interview, Obama spent time criticizing Republicans, saying the party has moved farther to the right after John McCain ran for president in 2008.
"And that's where, ultimately, any voter is going to have to pay attention is the degree to which the Republican rhetoric and Republican vision has moved not just to the right but has moved to a place that is unrecognizable."
During the lengthy interview
, Obama articulated elements of the head-versus-heart dilemma posed by the tight primary contest between Clinton and Sanders, as Democratic voters are forced to weigh the familiar, pragmatist pitch of the Clinton campaign against the ideological appeal of Sanders' candidacy.
Nodding to Sanders' insistence on making income inequality — a crucial issue among Democratic voters — central to his candidacy, Obama noted, the "one thing everybody understands is that this job right here, you don't have the luxury of just focusing on one thing."
And asked whether Sanders' intense focus on income inequality during the primary could translate into effective governance, the President was tepid.
"I don't want to play political consultant, because obviously what he's doing is working," he said. "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."
While he offered a nuanced and expansive view on the Democratic primary, and seemed receptive to Clinton's appeal, Obama did not criticize Sanders and pointedly maintained his official neutrality.
Acknowledging that he's "had a conversation broadly about the importance of a Democrat winning (with Clinton), and I've had a conversation with Bernie, about issues that he's interested in or concerned about," Obama added, "I have not been trying to kibitz and stick my nose into every aspect of their strategy."