WASHINGTON - Rep. Patrick Murphy, a Bucks County Democrat, yesterday endorsed the presidential bid of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

"I believe that Barack Obama is the best chance to change the direction of our country," Murphy said in a telephone interview. "I'm inspired by his call to action to change how business is done in Washington."

"He is our most inspiring candidate," Murphy said.

As the only Iraq war veteran serving in Congress, Murphy might help to identify Obama as the favorite of voters opposing the war. The freshman senator has attempted to contrast his position against the war with that of the Democratic front-runner, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who voted for the original war authorization in 2002.

Murphy, who just returned from a trip to the Middle East, said he was announcing his preference now because "I need to be truthful when people ask me who is the best candidate."

Murphy said the factors that helped persuade him to make the endorsement were Obama's stance on bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq within 12 months and increasing diplomatic efforts to end the conflict, as well as the senator's position on aiding homeless veterans.

Murphy said Clinton and "several other" Democratic contenders, whom he did not name, had asked him for his endorsement.

"She's a great candidate," he said of Clinton, "and I will support whoever gets the nomination. But I believe Barack Obama is our man."