WASHINGTON — Sen. Robert C. Byrd, a former member of the Ku Klux Klan and a one-time opponent of civil rights legislation, endorsed Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination on Monday.
Obama is vying to become the nation's first black president.
Byrd's support comes almost a week after the Illinois senator's 41-point loss to Hillary Rodham Clinton in the longtime lawmaker's home state of West Virginia.
Byrd said he had no intention of getting involved while his state was in the midst of a primary. "But the stakes this November could not be higher," he said in a written statement.
Byrd said Obama has the qualities to end the Iraq war, which he has strongly opposed.
"I believe that Barack Obama is a shining young statesman, who possesses the personal temperament and courage necessary to extricate our country from this costly misadventure in Iraq, and to lead our nation at this challenging time in history," Byrd said.
Byrd has repeatedly apologized for his time in the Ku Klux Klan, which he joined as a young man in the 1940s to fight communism. He also opposed integrating the military, and filibustered the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Byrd is the longest-serving senator in history.
Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton said Barack Obama may be getting ahead of himself in acting like the party's nominee before the final primary contests are over. "You can declare yourself anything, but if you don't have the votes, it doesn't matter," she said.
Republican John McCain accused Obama of inexperience and reckless judgment for saying Iran does not pose the same serious threat to the United States as the Soviet Union did in its day. "Such a statement betrays the depth of Sen. Obama's inexperience and reckless judgment. These are very serious deficiencies for an American president to possess," he said.
Billionaire investor Warren Buffett said he would be happy if either Obama or Clinton were the Democratic nominee because both have what it takes to be president. As for Republican John McCain, Buffett described him as a "first-class human being. I think he's admirable. I don't agree with him as much as I agree with Barack. I think the U.S. will do well over time whether the president becomes Barack or John McCain."
President Bush will help Republican John McCain raise money this month in Arizona. Beyond that, the White House isn't saying how much the two will campaign together. The White House said the president would hit the trail in support of Republican candidates despite questions about whether his presence would help or hurt the likely GOP nominee.
Kentucky and Oregon hold Democratic primaries today. Clinton is favored to win in Kentucky, and Obama in Oregon. Obama is expected to gain a majority of the total pledged delegates at stake in all the primaries and caucuses.