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Rep. Larsen endorses Sen. Obama for president

Barack Obama is Congressman Rick Larsen’s pick for president.

U.S. Rep. Larsen, D-Wash., has been one of Washington’s last uncommitted superdelegates. He told reporters in a conference call Thursday afternoon that he would support Obama.

“I believe that Sen. Obama is, frankly, the best candidate to turn our country’s hope for a better future into a reality,” Larsen said.

“In my district, Sen. Obama has strong grassroots support. He has inspired and energized my constituents like no other candidate,” he said.

Larsen’s vote of support came just days after the split-decision primaries Tuesday in Indiana and North Carolina. Obama handily won the North Carolina primary, while his opponent for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton, narrowly won the Indiana primary on

May 6. Clinton vowed to stay in the race after picking up the victory.

“Tuesday was a game changer,” Larsen said, even though Sen. Obama did not win both states. “Obama showed his toughness.”

The strong showing convinced him, Larsen said, that he could move away from his early vow to wait until June before announcing his presidential pick.

“It showed me that he was tough enough, resilient enough, to go into the fall, into what will be a very tough campaign against Sen. McCain. And that was important for me to see.”

Larsen, a 2nd District Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, had stayed neutral in the presidential race until now. He had said earlier he wanted the campaign to continue so more states could weigh in on the race. That changed after last week’s primaries.

“I have been particularly impressed by Sen. Obama’s truth-telling on the proposed gas tax policy,” Larsen said, adding that consumers would see little relief on a day-to-day basis from the summer suspension of federal gas taxes.

“A gas tax holiday, as great as it sounds...it really is about 31 cents a day. To me, it just really looked like someone trying to create votes where votes didn’t exist,” he said.

The 2nd District spans Island County, as well as the San Juans and Skagit, Whatcom, Snohomish and north King counties.

Obama has been the consistent choice of Democratic voters in Washington and Island County.

The U.S. senator from Illinois beat Clinton with 68 percent of the vote during the Island County Democratic caucuses on Feb. 9. Obama also won in the non-binding Washington Presidential Primary in Island County on Feb. 19, collecting

55 percent of the vote.

“There is a lot of energy in my district for Barack Obama,” Larsen said. “People want to be a part of what he is about. And that is something very unique and very original.”

A large number of Washington’s superdelegates have already announced their commitments to the candidates.

Clinton had earlier picked up the support of U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, U.S. Reps. Norm Dicks and Jay Inslee, King County Executive Ron Sims and former House Speaker Tom Foley.

Obama’s superdelegate supporters include Gov. Christine Gregoire,

U.S. Reps. Adam Smith and Brian Baird and Democratic National Committee member Pat Notter.

A total of 2,025 delegates are needed to win the Democratic nomination. Before today’s announcement, Obama needed 259 more delegates to wrap up the nomination, while Clinton was 272 delegates away from the prize. More than 250 of the Democrats 796 superdelegates were still up for grabs early Thursday.

The final primaries are May 13 in West Virginia, Oregon and Kentucky on

May 20, Puerto Rico on June 1 and South Dakota and Montana on June 3.

Larsen said there were multiple attempts to connect with the Clinton campaign before he finalized his choice. With the action in the House, however, time ran out. “It wasn’t for the lack of trying,” he said. “I tried, they tried.”

Larsen said he met with Obama about an hour before his call with reporters Thursday.

Larsen said he wanted to hear firsthand the candidate’s current view of the race, as well as issues facing Washington state, including the recent contention over the Pentagon’s move to buy tankers for the Air Force built by an overseas consortium led by Northrop Grumman Corp. and Airbus, the bitter rival to Boeing.

Larsen said they also talked about the impact Obama’s campaign may have on races here — including the contest for governor — as well as a possible appointment if Obama becomes president.

A post in the paint, perhaps.

Larsen — who has earned headlines in recent years for going to basketball courts in his district where he’s played sailors, civilians and others in pick-up games — said he wanted to be Obama’s “short list” for Congressmen who could shoot hoops. It was a Nasmith nod to recent news coverage showing Obama shooting baskets at a campaign stop in Indiana.

And Larsen talked up his own skills to get into Obama’s favorite five.

“I got a Hershey bar jumper,” Larsen joked, alluding to the fact that he can elevate for a shot and leave enough room for a candy bar beneath his feet.

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