ST. LOUIS (AP) — Sen. Claire McCaskill endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Sunday, saying his vitality and freshness as a leader overcame her desire to support the candidacy of Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“This has not been an easy decision for me,” McCaskill, D-Mo., said during a conference call with reporters.
McCaskill said many of her own political supporters were behind Clinton, who could become the first woman president. But McCaskill said she thought Obama was the kind of leader who came along “once in a generation.”
Obama said McCaskill’s endorsement will help his campaign in Missouri, which he called vital to winning the Democratic nomination. Missouri voters will cast their primary ballots on Feb. 5, called “Super Tuesday” because more than 20 states will vote.
McCaskill promised to campaign for Obama in the state during the weeks before the primary, helping describe his character and platform to Missouri voters.
She brushed aside criticisms that Obama does not have enough experience.
“This is a man who has incredibly intellectual heft, a very smart guy with a wise soul,” she said.
Clinton spokeswoman Carly Lindauer suggested McCaskill’s endorsement would not be a blow to the New York senator’s campaign in Missouri.
“We are extremely proud of the strong grass-roots support that we have seen for Hillary on the ground here in Missouri,” Lindauer said. “We are fully confident that voters will make their decision based on which candidate is experienced enough to make real change happen.”
Obama came to St. Louis to hold a rally for McCaskill during her Senate campaign in 2006. She said she has been impressed with his leadership since they both arrived in Washington, particularly when the two of them worked on an ethics reform bill.
Both Obama and Clinton have set up extensive campaign operations in Missouri. Clinton has collected her own powerful supporters in the state, including former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, former Govs. Bob Holden and Warren Hearnes, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay.
Obama has the backing of Reps. William Lacy Clay and Russ Carnahan and St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley.