LOS ANGELES — Barack Obama picked up the endorsement of a leading anti-war group Friday and said Democratic presidential rival Hillary Rodham Clinton still has not adequately explained her vote to go into Iraq.
Obama told reporters in a news conference that, even though Clinton explains how she would like to end the war, her explanation for her vote leading into the war is disingenuous. He said his opposition against the war from the start will make him the stronger rival to Republican front-runner and war backer John McCain in the general election.
Obama's long-standing opposition to the war helped him pick up the backing of MoveOn.org, a liberal network which counts 3.2 million members and decided to support him by a vote of 70 percent to 30 percent for Clinton. The group said Friday that it has 1.7 million members in the 22 states scheduled to vote in the race Tuesday, and it would immediately begin a campaign to get them behind Obama.
Obama also picked up the support of a large union in California which had endorsed rival John Edwards, who dropped out of the race this week.
Meanwhile, Oprah Winfrey was returning to the campaign trail in support of her friend Obama. The talk show hostess planned to hold a rally with Obama's wife, Michelle, and Caroline Kennedy on Sunday in Los Angeles. Winfrey held massive rallies for Obama in December in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
MoveOn.org executive director Eli Pariser said the country needs a president to end the war, provide universal health care, address climate change, restore America's standing in the world and "change business as usual in Washington." In his statement, Pariser thanked all the other candidates who ran in the Democratic primary for their contributions to the race.
Obama criticized Clinton's answer during a debate Thursday night when she was asked why she voted against a 2002 amendment offered by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. The amendment would have given weapons inspectors more time in Iraq and required President Bush to first obtain U.N. approval before using force. Clinton argued that a vote for the Levin amendment would have subordinated U.S. authority in Iraq to the U.N. Security Council and called it a troublesome precedent.
She reiterated her explanation of the 2002 vote to give Bush authority to use military force to oust Saddam Hussein. But she added, "If I had known then what I know now, I never would have given President Bush the authority. It was a sincere vote based on my assessment at the time and what I believed he would do with the authority he was given. He abused that authority; he misused that authority."
She declined to say the vote was a mistake. Obama criticized her explanation in his news conference, the third he's held this week leading into the Super Tuesday contests. Clinton holds a lead in the polling in most of those states.
"I think there continues to be a suggestion that it was not a vote for war, and I thought that her explanation with respect to the Levin amendment was inaccurate," Obama said. "Anyone who looks at the Levin amendment knows that we were not ceding sovereignty in some fashion to the United Nations."
Responding to Obama Friday, Clinton spokesman Phil Singer said Obama's early opposition to the war was not borne out by his actions in the Senate.
"The reality is that once he got sworn in, he explicitly called for keeping troops in Iraq and opposed a timeline for withdrawal, only changing his position when he became a candidate for the White House," Singer said.
In Sacramento, one of California's largest unions, the Service Employees International Union, decided to throw its support to Obama. The 650,000-member union's backing could help Obama cut into Clinton's lead in California polls of Democratic base voters, many of whom are union members. The SEIU includes city, county and state workers, as well as in-home support and health care workers.
Union officials will urge their members to vote for Obama but do not plan to do a wider get-out-the-vote effort.
Obama was also endorsed Friday by the New York City-based Transport Workers Union, which also had originally sided with Edwards. "With Senator Edwards out of the race, our officers found it an easy decision to lend our support to the Obama campaign," said union president James C. Little. The 200,000-member Transport Workers Union is the first national AFL-CIO-affiliated union to endorse Obama.
Obama said he has spoken to former presidential candidate Bill Richardson about getting his endorsement.
"We have no plans of receiving an endorsement, but I would love to be pleasantly surprised," he said.
The New Mexico governor has spoken to former President Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Obama and Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, who endorsed Obama on Monday. Richardson was unclear on whether he would made an endorsement before Democratic caucuses in his state Tuesday.
"I asked all my supporters in New Mexico to make their own choice, but don't be guided by me. And I mean that. I think we have a good selection of candidates," he said.
Kennedy campaigned for Obama in Oakland, Calif., on Friday. The senator repeatedly mentioned Martin Luther King Jr. during a speech at Beebe Memorial Cathedral, and invoked the memory of his brother, President John F. Kennedy, when he said, "Barack Obama is going to ask this generation, and ask you, and you, and you to do something for your country."
The Clinton campaign on Friday began airing two ads featuring the endorsement of Sen. Kennedy's nephew, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Associated Press Writers Laura Kurtzman in Sacramento, Calif., Scott Lindlaw in Oakland, Calif., Barry Massey in Santa Fe, N.M., and Beth Fouhy in New York contributed to this report.
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