With his party bitterly split amid a sharply contested Democratic primary fight, President has decided to steer clear of the battle, according to a report Saturday.

"As the leader of the party and as the incumbent two-term president who also happens to have among Democrats and independents the highest favorable and approval ratings of any national elected official, unity is important," David Simas, White House political director, told the Los Angeles Times.

Obama appears to favor his former secretary of state and 2008 rival, Hillary Clinton, over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Obama has urged Democratic donors to rally behind Clinton and praised her work at the State Department while downplaying a furor over her use of a private email account while in the job.

But the White House statement indicates that Obama will formally stay out of the primary fight.

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