WASHINGTON — Bruce Springsteen, the poetic rocker whose lyrics have chronicled the hardships of working-class Americans in struggling factory towns, on Wednesday endorsed Barack Obama for president.
The support that the music star known as "the Boss" threw behind the Illinois senator was a highlight of a relatively quiet day on the campaign trail, as Obama and rival Hillary Rodham Clinton prepared for Wednesday night's Democratic debate in Philadelphia.
Springsteen broke the news in a letter posted on his website. Obama, he said, "has the depth, the reflectiveness and the resilience to be our next president."
Without mentioning Clinton, Springsteen took issue with Obama critics who have fanned recent flaps over Obama's comments about "bitter" small-town Americans and his long relationship with the controversial Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.
"Critics have tried to diminish Sen. Obama through the exaggeration of certain of his comments and relationships," Springsteen said. "While these matters are worthy of some discussion, they have been ripped out of the context and fabric of the man's life and vision . . . often in order to distract us from discussing the real issues."
With less than a week to go before Tuesday's Pennsylvania primary, where the votes of blue-collar Democrats could be pivotal, New Jersey-bred Springsteen urged voters to consider "the terrible damage done over the past eight years" of the Bush administration, and to undertake "a great American reclamation project."
Springsteen, 58, backed Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry in 2004, and played concerts in Pennsylvania and elsewhere in a get-out-the-vote effort.
His stardom has continued since the 1970s, with songs such as "Born to Run," "Born in the U.S.A." and "Factory," in which he reflected on workers who, leaving the plant at the end of the day, "walk through these gates with death in their eyes."
Obama also received the endorsement Wednesday of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the largest newspaper in western Pennsylvania.
In addition, he won support from three superdelegates: Democratic Reps. David E. Price and Melvin Watt of North Carolina, and Andre Carson of Indiana. That followed Clinton's pickup on Tuesday of superdelegate Rep. Jackie Speier, from the San Francisco area, who this month replaced the late Tom Lantos in Congress.
Clinton also picked up the endorsement of a celebrated musician, salsa star Willie Colon. "Hillary has been on the side of our families for over 35 years -- she has been with us from the very beginning," the bandleader and trombonist said in a prepared statement. "I want a president who I can count on, someone who in tough times will be there for me."
The New York senator also received the backing of the Operative Plasterers' and Cement Masons' International Assn., representing about 45,000 plasterers and cement masons in the construction industry.
"We need a leader with Hillary Clinton's ability to turn around the economy and rebuild the middle class," said Patrick D. Finley, the union's president. "She has a clear record fighting for working families, and is the strongest candidate to go toe-to-toe with John McCain in November."
While Obama and Clinton collected endorsements, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, John McCain, was the target of Democratic attacks.
Clinton criticized McCain -- one day after the Arizona senator outlined an economic agenda calling for tax cuts and spending curbs -- for what she characterized as a plan to continue Bush administration economic policies.
In a speech to union members gathered in Washington for the Building and Construction Trades Department union's annual legislative conference, Clinton scored McCain for seeking "more tax cuts for corporations."
Separately, while stumping for Clinton in Pennsylvania, Democratic Rep. John P. Murtha, who is 75, called McCain, 71, too old to be president. Noting that McCain "is about as old as me," Murtha drew laughter and applause when he said, "Let me tell you something: It's no old man's job."
McCain, asked the age question earlier this week, told editors at the Associated Press annual meeting, "Watch me campaign. We keep a heavier schedule. We campaign harder." He urged voters to judge him by his performance, and predicted: "My energy, my intellect, my experience and my judgment is what American people will -- hopefully that they will view me as qualified to be president of the United States."