If the horse race for the Democratic presidential nomination between Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama ends up in a dead heat, Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, will be among the 795 superdelegates charged with the enormous responsibility of selecting a winner.

Speaking with Noozhawk at a roundtable discussion Tuesday, Capps talked about her role as a Democratic Party superdelegate. But she also touched on other federal issues of local importance, including the No Child Left Behind Act, the Gaviota coast, the housing crisis and offshore oil drilling.

On the topic of presidential politics, Capps — who has not endorsed a candidate and emphatically declined to tip her hand despite Noozhawk’s best attempts to pry — said she does favor one candidate but will not go public with her preference.

She did allow that she will always be grateful to Clinton and then-President Bill Clinton, both of whom visited Santa Barbara in 1998 to campaign for her in a hard-fought race against Republican Tom Bordonaro. By a paper-thin margin, Capps won that election to succeed her late husband, Rep. Walter Capps, D-Santa Barbara. The Clintons also had helped elect her husband to Congress and the Cappses’ daughter, Laura, was a White House intern during the Clinton administration.

Capps also said she fears the country still has unfortunate hang-ups about race, a fact that she believes could bode ill for Obama should he win the nomination. Of Clinton, she said, “It’s about time we had a serious female candidate. She’s clearly qualified, and she’s clearly capable.”

However, Capps said she feels uneasy about the possibility of having to be an elite decider.

“I’m hoping for a clear forge ahead by one of the two,” she said during an interview in the library of the Santa Barbara Club, 1105 Chapala St.

If that doesn’t happen, and the superdelegates are forced to cast their votes, Capps won’t necessarily have the luxury of deferring to the will of the people she represents. While voters in her congressional district preferred Obama in the February primary, Clinton won the most overall votes in California.

“I’ve got two mandates there, if you will,” she said.

On the matter of No Child Left Behind, Capps criticized the legislation for its shortage of funding and punitive nature. The law has a large presence in Santa Barbara, where five of the city’s 20 public K-12 schools are labeled as failures.

Lawmakers in Washington soon will be voting on whether to re-authorize the 7-year-old law.

“If that passes again, we need a president who will fund it,” she said.

Capps said she takes exception to the law’s tendency to single out some schools as failures without naming others as successes.

“That’s not good pedagogy for children, why should it be good for schools?” she noted.

As far as the general housing situation, the road out of the crisis is a long one, said Capps, who mentioned the even bigger hole struggling families get into when they opt for predatory loans. The current economic stimulus package offers stronger sanctions against those kinds of loans, but the package won’t help families that have already been victimized.

“It’s devastating for their lives, and it’s really bad for the local economy,” she said.

She noted that her congressional district has already lost $500 million in credit. A second stimulus package that provides more support to people in the most dire consequences might be an option, said Capps, but implementing it fairly will be difficult. Meanwhile, she expressed her support for local community consumer education programs that will reach out to those suffering from the crisis.

With respect to the Gaviota coast, it’s a little ironic to Capps that federal intervention — which recevied little public support when it was proposed years ago — is perhaps the very thing that could keep the area as open space.  In 2002, the government conducted a parks study that concluded the Gaviota coast was worth federal protection but many locals mistrusted the study, fearing it would open the way for a federal land grab. Still, she expressed some optimism for the area’s future as undeveloped, agricultural open space.

“I believe that what makes that area so special is its physical characteristics and its geography but that it’s still undeveloped,” she said. “There are ways to partner with land trusts and other organizations to make sure that it stays in ag.”

And as oil continues to become more valuable and some oil companies are pushing to expand their leases, Capps is supportive of the current moratorium on drilling in federal waters. While she and fellow Democrats from middle America continue to disagree on policies for renewable energy, it’s a topic she is excited to see move forward.

“We have a really interesting situation in this country which is that the coastlines tend to be forward thinking in this area. We have a lot to protect on the coastlines,” she said. “In the heartland is where they make the tires, they drill for the oil, so that they have a different take on that. It’s an education process.”