- Former president spoke to about 100 donors in Los Altos Hills, California
- He urged Democrats not to use ‘purity tests’ in presidential primary
- Obama spoke a day after Democrats held fifth debate in Atlanta on Wednesday
- Democratic field has expanded to 17 candidates, including Michael Bloomberg
- Obama says Dems should ‘chill out’ and not worry about differences among candidates
- Party is split between centrists and progressives over health care, climate issues
Former President Barack Obama warned Democrats on Thursday against adopting ‘purity tests’ in the presidential primary and said any adversity the candidates face in the contest will make whoever emerges an even stronger nominee.
Obama spoke to about 100 donors during a question-and-answer session with Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez in Los Altos Hills, California.
The event came a day after the fifth Democratic presidential debate in Atlanta and as the field continues to expand, with the expected entry of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the coming days.
Until recently, Obama largely refrained from opining publicly on the Democratic contest, and his move from the sidelines comes at a moment of deep uncertainty for the party.
Many are jittery about the uneven candidacy of his former Vice President Joe Biden, question whether Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren can defeat President Donald Trump next year, and skeptical of whether Pete Buttigieg, the South Bend, Indiana, mayor who is surging in Iowa, can appeal to black voters that are a crucial Democratic voting bloc.
‘Which is why I am always suspicious of purity tests during elections. Because, you know what, the country is complicated.’
The former president added: ‘Everybody needs to chill out about the candidates, but gin up about the prospect of rallying behind’ a candidate.
‘The truth of the matter is that every candidate on that stage believes we should provide’ better health care and education and address climate change, Obama said.
He also noted the historic diversity of the Democratic field, which now includes five women, three black candidates, a Latino man and a gay man.
He compared that to his own election as the nation’s first black president.
‘We have a number of women candidates and we have one gay candidate. And those candidates are going to have barriers if they win the nomination, or they win the general election – just like I did,’ Obama told donors.
‘You can overcome that resistance if the way you are framing these issues and messages indicate, “Look, I’m part of an American tradition… of opening up opportunity”.’
In recent weeks Obama has sought to play both referee and uplifting elder statesman.