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Is Obama tilting scales in Democratic race? ‘I don’t believe that at all,’ Bernie Sanders says

Bernie Sanders

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders walks with his wife, Jane O’Meara Sanders, to speak to reporters after meeting with President Obama at the White House on Wednesday.

(Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty Images)

After a 45-minute sit-down in the Oval Office on Wednesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders left the White House praising President Obama for how “even-handed” he has been in an increasingly tight nomination fight to succeed him.

“I think he and the vice president have tried to be fair and even-handed in the process, and I expect they will continue to be that way,” Sanders told reporters outside the West Wing entrance after the meeting.

Obama’s partiality has increasingly been called into question as the first nominating contests near. In an interview released Monday, Obama heaped praise on Clinton while labeling Sanders a “bright, shiny” alternative. Clinton repeatedly referred to Obama’s remarks that night in a nationally televised forum.

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“I know there was some discussion the other day about a Politico interview where he was tipping the scale toward Secretary Clinton. I don’t believe that at all,” Sanders said.

Sanders said his meeting with the president was largely about domestic and foreign policy issues, specifically how to fight Islamic State and the president’s assessment of the U.S. relationship with Iran.

But yes, Sanders acknowledged, there was “occasionally a little bit of politics.” He did not ask for Obama’s endorsement, nor did he ask for advice on how to beat Clinton, Sanders said in response to reporters’ questions. Asked whether he thought Clinton has exaggerated her close relationship with Obama, Sanders demurred, saying the “people of Iowa will make that decision in a few days.”

The Vermont senator said the caucuses on Monday will be decided by how big voter turnout is and seemed to downplay expectations about the final result.

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“I’m not saying we can do what Barack Obama did in 2008,” Sanders said. “I wish we could. But I don’t think we can. But if there is a large turnout, I think we win. If not I think we’re going to be struggling.”

Obama’s candidacy helped prompt a record turnout at the caucuses in 2008; his win there helped propel him to the Democratic nomination, but not before a drawn-out and bitter fight with Clinton.

Sanders said he thought he had a “pretty good chance” to win in New Hampshire a week after Iowa’s caucuses, and said he would surprise pundits who have predicted that strong support for Clinton in contests in Nevada and South Carolina and in ensuing primaries would blunt his momentum.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters after the meeting that Obama welcomed the “robust debate” among Democratic candidates and repeated that he did not expect Obama to announce an endorsement for the nomination.

The degree to which Sanders has energized and inspired voters “will be critical to the success of Democrats up and down the ballot, whether Sen. Sanders is the nominee or not,” Earnest said.

Follow @mikememoli for more news out of Washington.

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