Hirono, one of Hawaii’s nine superdelegates, said although she has “deep respect and admiration for Senator Clinton . . . at this point, I think it is important for the party to unite behind the front-runner.”
Both the Hawaii-born Obama and Clinton are “extraordinary candidates and both represent the kind of changes that America wants,” Hirono said. She also said she is not saying Obama would be a better president than Clinton, but the focus of the party should be on defeating the presumptive Republican candidate, Arizona Sen. John McCain.
“We need to have a Democrat who will change the priorities from the Bush priorities. John McCain is not a change, but a continuation of the Bush agenda, so we have to make sure that we have someone who will lead a change,” Hirono said. “The Bush priorities are disastrous for our country.”
Hirono represents the 2nd Congressional District, which includes Maui County, the other Neighbor Island counties and rural Oahu. She spoke to The Maui News in a telephone interview from Washington on Friday after releasing a statement on her support for Obama.
On her last visit to the district two weeks ago, she said, people told her they are ready to move beyond the primary feuding and focus on the GOP challenge. She said her choice for Obama is not just because he grew up in Hawaii, “although it’s great that Barack has a background of being from Hawaii; as president he can appreciate the importance and challenges of diversity in our country.
‘‘Barack Obama is someone who can bring about the positive changes Americans want,’’ she said.
She noted that Hawaii residents overwhelmingly supported Obama in the February Hawaii caucus and are proud of his deep roots in the state.
The islands’ other Democratic congressman, Rep. Neil Abercrombie, was an early Obama supporter as a superdelegate and has called on the state’s undecided superdelegates to endorse a candidate as soon as possible so the party can focus on the general election.
‘‘We don’t want to be concentrating our efforts and our energies on this end any longer than we have to,’’ he said in a phone interview Thursday.
The undecided superdelegates are Sen. Daniel Akaka and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Dolly Strazar.
Jesse Broder Van Dyke, spokesman for Akaka, said there was no change in his position. There has been no announcement from Strazar and calls seeking her position were not returned.
The state’s superdelegates also include Sen. Daniel Inouye and Democratic National Committee member Richard Port, who are supporting Clinton.
The three remaining superdelegates, including the state party chair, will be chosen later this month when the local Democratic party gathers for its state convention.
Brian Schatz, a candidate for state party chair, supports Obama. His rival, Annelle Amaral, said although she supports Clinton, she will uphold the will of Hawaii’s Democratic caucus voters, who overwhelmingly supported Obama.
Overall, the national convention will have about 800 superdelegates, who are free to choose their candidates and are not bound by state primary or caucus results.
Despite signs that Obama may have the nomination locked, a spokesman for Inouye said the senator remains supportive of Clinton.
‘‘Senator Inouye will not join the chorus urging her to leave the race,’’ said Mike Yuen. ‘‘He is confident she will make the right decision for both the Democratic Party and our nation.’’
Inouye told the Honolulu Star Bulletin there are still ways for Clinton to win.
He said 15- or 20-point Clinton victories in the next contests would give people something to think about and noted that former President Bill Clinton was running third among Democrats for the party’s nomination at this time in 1992.
Still, Inouye agreed that Clinton’s performance in the recent North Carolina and Indiana primaries did not help. He expects her to make a decision about her campaign after primaries May 13 in West Virginia and May 20 in Kentucky and Oregon.
‘‘I would think that you will go through the next round, and then soon after a decision will be made,’’ he told the newspaper.
Port said Thursday he is still concerned about what he sees as Obama’s inexperience and lack of support among white working-class voters and women.
Port said he will likely go to the convention as a Clinton supporter, although if Obama wins in West Virginia and Kentucky — states with large blue-collar populations — that would affect his decision.
The presidential candidate for the party will need 2,025 of 4,049 delegates. As of Friday, Obama had 1,840, Clinton had 1,684 and John Edwards had 18. The Democratic Party 2008 convention will be held Aug. 25-28 in Denver.
“My hope and expectation is that the Bush policies are so obviously bad for the country that we will all recognize the need to have a president who will change the direction,” Hirono said. “At the same time, we have to be sure when we come out of our convention we are going to be united as a party.”