WASHINGTON -- Barack Obama's bandwagon on Friday belatedly picked up two San Joaquin Valley passengers, as Reps. Dennis Cardoza of Merced and Jim Costa of Fresno formally endorsed the surging Democratic presidential contender.
With Obama appearing all but certain to secure the nomination, Car-doza and Costa added their names to his growing list of superdelegate supporters. The carefully timed joint endorsement moves Obama within several dozen delegate votes of the nomination.
"I believe that Senator Obama will inevitably be our party's nominee for president," Cardoza noted.
The endorsement marks a turnabout for Cardoza. For Costa, it's a chance to get off the sidelines.
In December, Cardoza publicly threw his support to Obama's rival, Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. At the time, Cardoza praised her "strength and experience" and declared "her time as first lady and as a two-term U.S. senator uniquely prepares her to be president from Day One."
Clinton, in turn, named Cardoza co-chairman of her National Hispanic Leadership Council. Cardoza is of Portuguese ancestry.
Cardoza's initial endorsement of Clinton occurred when she appeared to be the odds-on favorite, with more than twice as many superdelegate supporters as Obama. That was before Obama won the Iowa caucuses and began his roller-coaster ride toward front-runner status.
In more recent months, as Clinton's lead evaporated and Obama passed her in delegates, Cardoza and his fellow superdelegates have been getting more pressure from Obama's camp to join the winning team.
Two weeks ago, for instance, Obama ventured to a Capitol Hill townhouse to meet with members of the Blue Dog coalition, a group of moderate to conservative House Democrats who generally represent swing congressional districts. Cardoza and Costa are Blue Dogs, and by all accounts, Obama made a hit.
Cardoza: Unity needed
"I continue to greatly respect and admire Senator Clinton and feel she has made history with her campaign," Cardoza declared, before adding that "we need to avoid (a) potentially divisive situation by uniting behind one nominee and bringing the party together immediately."
Cardoza further characterized Obama as "thoughtful, knowledgeable and inspirational."
Superdelegates such as Car-doza and Costa are free to shift their support. They have more flexibility than pledged delegates, who are assigned based on public voting. The first Democratic candidate to secure 2,026 delegates will win the nomination. As of Friday, CNN credited Obama with 1,969 delegates and Clinton with 1,779.
Unlike Cardoza, Costa had held his fire until now. Costa's neutral stance drew considerable attention from both sides, with current and former members of Congress repeatedly calling upon him and his chief of staff, Fresno native Scott Nishi-oki, to take the political temperature. Some made the tactical point that an endorsement arriving after the nomination was formally sewn up would offer no political advantage to either side.
An end to Costa's neutrality
Last weekend, finally, Obama and Costa talked by telephone to nail down the pending endorsement.
"I did not come to this decision without careful consideration," Costa said, adding that "it's been a long presidential primary season, and now is time to bring it to a close."
Costa, repeating an invitation he and Cardoza had issued earlier, said he was insisting that Obama campaign in the San Joaquin Valley before the November general election.
Bee Washington Bureau reporter Michael Doyle can be reached at email@example.com or 202-383-0006.