White House Predicts ‘Spirited Debate’ for Democratic Nomination After Iowa

It's unclear what President Obama thought of Iowa caucuses.

February 2, 2016, 3:36 PM

— -- As the presidential campaign moves on to New Hampshire and voters analyze Hillary Clinton's squeaker over Sen. Bernie Sanders, the White House continues to distance itself from the tight race for the Democratic nomination.

“It's a spirited debate and [Hillary Clinton] clearly had a very sophisticated and effective turnout operation and her field staff and her staff in Iowa, I think, should feel very good about the way their operation performed last night,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said today at the daily press briefing.

“At the same time, it's clear that Senator Sanders has -- just in the space in a few months -- inspired a passionate following and I think that's a testament to his skills as a candidate. It's also a testament to the power of his message.”

To the dismay of reporters eager to learn the president’s reaction to the results, Earnest said he did not have a chance to talk to the president about the Iowa caucus results.

“Sorry to disappoint you on that front,” he quipped, later adding that he was “confident” the president personally tracked the results through news reports

The Associated Press declared Clinton the victor this afternoon after the race was too close to call on Monday evening.

In 2008, President Obama and Clinton took their primary all the way to June, racking up more than $25 million in debt that loomed over Clinton for more than four years after the stinging defeat.

While Clinton’s prolonged efforts in 2008 delayed Democrats from fully turning their attention to the GOP’s nominee, Earnest said the White House does not believe the drawn-out battle adversely impacted Obama’s historic campaign over Sen. John McCain.

“It turned out that the opposite was true, that the drawn-out primary campaign in 2008 had the effect of sharpening and improving the skills of both candidates on the stump and on the debate stage,” Earnest said. “It had the effect of forcing Democratic campaigns in just about all 50 states to build up a turnout operation that yielded important benefits in the general election.”

Earnest said he wasn’t sure how the 2016 race will play out, “but those concerns in 2008 were unfounded.”

“There is certainly the potential that you could find in 2016 … a campaign and a debate that has clearly energized Democrats in Iowa, and I think we'll see energized Democrats in New Hampshire too; that having this campaign go to some other states would have the effect of energizing some Democrats in other states that eventually would be beneficial to whichever candidate emerges as the Democratic nominee,” he said.