By LES BLUMENTHAL
With the first presidential primary and caucus still 10 months away, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., has endorsed Sen. Barack Obama in the race for the Democratic nomination.
Smith was one of 14 House members to host a congressional breakfast Wednesday for the Illinois senator and is the first member of the Washington state congressional delegation to make an endorsement in the presidential contest.
“I believe in getting involved in the process as early as possible if I have a candidate I believe in,” Smith said in an interview.
While he and Obama have met only several times, Smith, of Tacoma, said, “I like the guy. He is knowledgeable on the issues, he is effective in delivering his message and he is inclusive rather than divisive. He will work with people he knows will never vote for him.”
The hosts of Wednesday’s breakfast ranged included centrists like Smith and Alabama Rep. Arthur Davis and such liberals as Hawaii Rep. Neil Abercrombie. They also included members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Illinois congressional delegation.
The closed-door event was held in a meeting room at the Democratic National Committee offices and was described as an opportunity to talk “policy and politics” with Obama. It was Obama’s first opportunity since he announced he would run to recruit congressional support for his campaign.
A new Washington Post-ABC News Poll released Wednesday showed Obama still trailed New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton by 36 percent to 24 percent. But Obama has cut Clinton’s lead in half over the past month, mostly as a result of his growing support in the black community, the poll showed.
Smith said that even though he agreed with Clinton on many of the issues, he feared her nomination would rekindle many of the harsh political attacks that marked her husband’s presidency.
“Through no fault her own, Hillary is divisive,” he said.
Despite having some good ideas, Smith said, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who is running third in the latest poll, hadn’t entered the “public policy arena” until he was in his 40s.
Smith dismissed suggestions that Obama was also new to the political process, having served only two years in the U.S. Senate.
“Obama served eight years in the Illinois statehouse and started thinking about public policy when he was 8 years old,” said Smith. “Experience can be highly overrated. It’s not to say it isn’t a factor, but I want talent and ability and Obama has both.”
In the 2004 Democratic presidential race, Smith was an early supporter of the eventual winner, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts,
A member of the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees, Smith said he would help advise Obama on national security issues and help build support for the senator on the West Coast.
Smith is one of the leading members of the New Democrats in the House, and he said Obama’s positions on such things as education echoed those of the coalition of centrist Democrats. But Smith added that was not the decisive factor in deciding to endorse Obama.
“I think he is the best qualified candidate running,” Smith said.
(Contact Les Blumenthal at lblumenthal(at)mcclatchydc.com.)