Hillary's strengths can also be weaknesses, says Barack Obama
Trump and Cruz exploiting Republican anger, president warns
US President Barack Obama said that while Hillary Clinton had the most experience among candidates vying to succeed him, her strengths can sometimes be her weaknesses.
That has allowed Bernie Sanders to make an appeal to the main concerns of the Democratic Party's core voters.
"Bernie came in with the luxury of being a complete long shot, and just let loose. I think Hillary came in with both the privilege and burden of being perceived as the front-runner," Mr Obama said in an interview with website 'Politico' released yesterday. "If you are a front-runner, then you're under more scrutiny and everybody's going to pick you apart."
The US president said Mr Sanders was likely to be subjected to more rigorous vetting if he wins early nominating contests. Polls show Mr Sanders competitive with Ms Clinton in the February 1 Iowa caucuses, the opening contest in the nomination race, and leading in New Hampshire, which holds a primary the following week.
"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," Mr Obama said. "This job, right here, you don't have the luxury of just focusing on one thing."
Mr Obama didn't give an endorsement to either Mr Sanders or Ms Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Still, he said Mr Sanders, who has largely campaigned on addressing economic inequality, wouldn't have luxury of focusing only on that issue as president. He described Ms Clinton as experienced, "wicked smart, knows every policy inside and out."
Mr Obama rejected the assertion that the 2016 Democratic primary contest is a re-run of 2008, when he was the insurgent candidate who defeated then front-runner Ms Clinton. He told 'Politico' that the gulf between the Democratic and Republican candidates has widened since 2008, when he first won the presidency. He said the real contrast in the 2016 race isn't between Ms Clinton and Mr Sanders but between them and the Republican candidates, particularly Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.
"The Republican rhetoric and Republican vision has moved not just to the right but has moved to a place that is unrecognisable," he said.
The president said Mr Trump and Mr Cruz were exploiting the anger and frustration among many Republicans but expressed hope that voters eventually will "settle down" and consider what sort of person they want in the Oval Office.
Mr Obama recalled that his Republican opponent in 2008, Arizona Senator John McCain, "didn't call for banning Muslims from the United States." Mr McCain "was a conservative, but he was well within, you know, the mainstream of not just the Republican Party but within our political dialogue."
Mr Obama's comments came as Mr Trump's immigration-bashing stance seems to be setting the agenda for other aspiring Republican presidential candidates.
Mr Cruz has hardened his position on the issue, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie have changed course to adopt tougher-on-immigration stances and John Kasich has fudged his position on immigration.