One of Utah's two uncommitted superdelegates to this summer's Democratic National Convention announced Thursday he's backing Barack Obama for president.
"Sen. Obama has helped to energize our state party," Wayne Holland, chairman of the Utah Democratic Party, said. "The enthusiasm the Obama campaign has brought will benefit all our candidates."
Holland's decision means two of the state's five so-called superdelegates are committed to Obama and two are committed to Hillary Clinton. Utah's only Democratic member of Congress, Rep. Jim Matheson, continues to remain undecided.
A sixth at-large superdelegate will be named at the state Democratic Party convention in May. Since the final superdelegate who must be a female under party rules will be chosen by Holland, she is expected to be committed to Obama.
Superdelegates around the county are being courted by Obama and Clinton, who are locked in a hotly contested race for their party's nomination that may not be decided until the national convention in August.
The party's final choice could come down to the superdelegates, who are typically party officials and officeholders and are able to cast their ballot at the convention without regard to state election results.
Obama, an Illinois senator, was the choice of Utah Democrats in the state's Feb. 5 presidential primary with 57 percent of the vote. Clinton, a New York senator, received 40 percent.
That means that 14 of Utah's 23 pledged delegates to the national convention are bound to vote for Obama and nine for Clinton. Those delegates will be chosen at the party's state convention in May.
Holland said nearly three-quarters of the 125 Utah Democrats who filed for a delegate slot by Wednesday's deadline are running as Obama delegates. And a party survey of Democrats running for state and local offices found that 75 percent wanted Obama at the top of the ticket.
"A lot of that has to do with the Obama campaign's attention to Utah," Holland said.
Obama visited Utah last August and held an impromptu rally just outside Park City that attracted hundreds of Utahns. He was scheduled to come back to the state earlier this year but canceled after LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley's funeral was set for the same day.
Obama's wife, Michelle, did come to the state shortly before the presidential primary and spoke to hundreds of supporters before meeting with leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Holland said many of the volunteers Obama has attracted in Utah are now volunteering for other Democratic candidates, as well as the party. Clinton has not made a trip to Utah, although her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and daughter, Chelsea, have visited.
As state party chairman, Holland said he has an obligation to endorse the candidate who'll do the most for Utah Democrats.
"While we are blessed at having two exceptional candidates," he said, "Obama was clearly the choice of Utah Democrats on Feb. 5 and is the choice of the majority of Utah Democratic candidates to head the ticket in November."
Obama's other committed Utah superdelegate is former Congressman Bill Orton. Clinton's Utah superdelegates are former state Sen. Karen Hale and Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker's spokeswoman, Helen Langan.
Langan said she's hearing from many Obama supporters.
"Right now, I definitely remain committed to Sen. Clinton," she said. "My philosophy about it has been both of them would be excellent presidents and our country needs to elect a Democrat."But, Langan said, "I'm keeping an open mind and watching the race."
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