Obama signals support for Rep. Rothman in Dem primary fight

President Obama on Friday signaled support for Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) in his intraparty primary fight with Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) by meeting with him at the White House.

Obama's chat with Rothman came the same day that former President Clinton was expected to appear at an event with Pascrell, whom he has endorsed in the race for New Jersey's ninth district seat.

A White House spokesman said Obama's meeting with Rothman should not be construed as an endorsement. 

The president "has not weighed in to primary contests in which there are two incumbent members of Congress," Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, adding that Obama is "appreciative of the solid working relationship that they've enjoyed while the president has been in office."

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"The president has certainly shown that he has a long-term relationship with Congressman Rothman and has appreciated the relationship and the ability and opportunity they've had to work together on a number of priorities," Earnest added.

Both Rothman and Pascrell have served eight terms in the House. Rothman has repeatedly referenced his relationship with the president on the campaign trail, and said Friday he viewed his invitation to the White House as a signal of support.

"The president invited me to the Oval Office to express his support. One doesn't invite oneself," Rothman told the Bergen, N.J., Record.

The Rothman-Pascrell primary battle has turned into a proxy war of sorts for the last two Democrats to hold the White House.

Clinton's support for Pascrell stem partially from the New Jersey lawmaker's endorsement of former first lady Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential primary. The former president is expected to appear with the congressman at a rally Friday evening in Paterson, N.J.

Rothman, meanwhile, has been endorsed by top Obama adviser David Axelrod and is seen as the favorite of the White House.

“I believe, and the president believes, that ‘loyalty’ is an important word in politics, and Steve stood with us when it was hard,” Axelrod told reporters at a rally earlier this month.

Earnest made a point to note Rothman's visit at the top of his press gaggle with reporters Friday morning.

"The president was pleased to have the opportunity to spend a little time with him at the White House today," Earnest said.

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