Rep. Pete Stark is throwing his endorsement and support as a Democratic National Convention superdelegate to presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.
"I could've supported either, but I think he has captured the imagination of the American public, I think he's responsible for bringing millions of new voters, new Democrats into the party, and I haven't seen that kind of movement among young voters since I first ran and saw (George) McGovern do the same thing in 1972," the 18-term incumbent Democrat from Fremont said Thursday.
Obama now seems "on his way to capturing the nomination," Stark continued, and "with the greatest respect for Senator Clinton and her service, I just think we're at a point now where we can begin a move to unify the Democrats — which is why I've held out this long — and bring us to focus entirely on (apparent Republican nominee John) McCain."
Stark said he has "never been happy with Senator Clinton's explanation or statements on votes going into the war in Iraq."
However, "I'm not comfortable "... with Senator Obama's statements that he doesn't like mandates in universal health care."
Stark, chairman of the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, said he will tell Obama that if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, both of whom are Republicans, are willing to discuss universal health-care mandates, so should Obama.
Democrats in Stark's 13th Congressional District went 57.3 percent for Clinton, 38.3 percent for Obama in February's presidential primary.
The district's voters are 53.6 percent Democrat and 18.5 percent Republican; Stark won his past four general elections with ever-increasing support, always above 70 percent; he hasn't faced a contested Democratic primary since 1994, when he beat his challenger by better than a three-to-one margin. Stark risks little political capital by choosing not to abide by his district's vote.
"The truth is that I voted initially for (John) Edwards and I suppose if it was a three-way split I'd be going to the convention for Edwards," he said. "And as a practical matter, I have never liked the idea of superdelegates."
Stark said Edwards' endorsement of Obama on Wednesday, plus other California House members' endorsements this week, helped move him toward announcing his decision. But he would not comment on what Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton should do now.
"That's something I think she has to decide — I don't think you tell people to get offstage," he said. "That's something that's between those two. It could very well be that Senator Obama could offer her "... a way to get offstage with a great deal of dignity and with the approval she should get, or she could decide to do it her way."
Stark said he discussed his endorsement with neither Obama nor Clinton in recent months; a recent House-floor chat with Obama lasted only seconds, he said, and a scheduling conflict kept him from accepting Clinton's invitation to a dessert party at her home. "Unfortunately, neither of them offered to build us a new county hospital — I was holding out — or to widen Interstate 880," he quipped, not quite joking. "And I never quite found the opportunity to ask."
Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, is now the only East Bay House member who has not yet announced his choice. Targeted by the National Republican Congressional Committee and serving a district that both has a slight Republican registration edge and saw its Democrats support Clinton over Obama in February, McNerney has more to lose than Stark in siding with one candidate over another.