Friday, February 15, 2008

"U.S. Rep. Brian Baird endorses Barack Obama"

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, a Democrat who tangled with anti-war activists, on Friday endorsed Barack Obama for president, an olive branch to those who picketed, protested and ran attack ads against Baird's views on Iraq.
Baird joins three other Washington "superdelegates" who have endorsed the Illinois senator: Gov. Chris Gregoire; U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, his state chairman; and Pat Notter, a member of the Democratic National Committee.

Hillary Clinton has the support of five of the state's superdelegates, including Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, Reps. Norm Dicks and Jay Inslee, and King County Executive Ron Sims.

Reps. Jim McDermott and Rick Larsen remain uncommitted, as does former House Speaker Tom Foley. State Democratic Chairman Dwight Pelz and four other party officials also remain neutral.

Obama swept the Democratic caucuses with nearly 68 percent of the vote last Saturday, winning all of the counties in Baird's Southwest Washington district. Obama is favored in the nonbinding primary on Tuesday.

In announcing his endorsement, Baird didn't specifically mention the war, speaking more generally about the nation's "extraordinary challenges domestically and abroad."

Baird, who voted against the original Iraq war resolution in 2002, incurred the wrath of the anti-war movement in the 3rd District and beyond when he opposed efforts last year to back away from the Bush Administration's troop surge and opposed a specific timeline for withdrawing U.S. troops.

He was sharply criticized by anti-war activists at town hall meetings, and, the Internet-based liberal political action group, sponsored TV ads to chide him. Baird didn't back down, citing "encouraging progress on both the political and security fronts" in Iraq.

In an interview Friday, the congressman said the blowback "certainly had nothing to do" with endorsing the more liberal and outspoken anti-war candidate for president.

"I am actually comfortable with my position on Iraq ... and the numbers of casualties have dropped dramatically and there is progress on the political front. My position is at odds with a number of folks, and consistent with actual developments in Iraq."

Baird said he's hopeful that either Obama or Clinton could properly wind down the war. But he said many developments are possible before a new president is able to make changes a year from now.

He said Obama and Clinton both are "supremely qualified and intelligent and impressive," but that he's backing Obama.

"I believe Sen. Obama will bring a vision of unity that will rekindle the very best of our society and help all Americans move past the partisanship of the past and into the progressive partnership of the future.

"It has been many years since Americans, particularly young Americans, felt the sense of enthusiasm, hope and involvement that Sen. Obama has inspired."

The Illinois senator thanked Baird for the endorsement, adding that he's "proud that Washington state caucused for change."

Baird, now finishing his fifth term, is favored for re-election.

Paul Lindsay, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said "Coming from a Democrat who called a precipitous Iraq pullback potentially catastrophic, Brian Baird' endorsement is a telling reminder of the drastic foreign policy consequences that would result from an Obama presidency.

"Barack Obama' inexperience, coupled with an agenda for retreat in the war on terror, gives voters in Washington state good reason to question the candidate's readiness to serve as our commander in chief."

State House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, also added his name to the growing list of state Democrats endorsing Obama.

On the Republican side, the state's two Eastern Washington congressional members, Reps. Doc Hastings and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, both endorsed the GOP front-runner, John McCain. Rep. Dave Reichert and other leading Republicans had previously endorsed the Arizona senator.

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