updated 12/16/2003 12:46:24 PM ET 2003-12-16T17:46:24

Gov. James E. McGreevey plans to endorse Howard Dean for president and has asked state Democrats to begin campaigning for the former Vermont governor, state Democratic officials said Tuesday.

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Officials said McGreevey’s endorsement, which he plans to announce Friday, is part of a broader push by Dean to gain backing of Democratic governors and other party leaders.

McGreevey had planned to meet with Wesley Clark this week, but that meeting was canceled.

“The governor will make an endorsement when he feels its appropriate,” spokesman Micah Rasmussen said Tuesday.

A spokesman for Dean did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Building on momentum
Dean, a former five-term governor of Vermont, hopes to build on momentum from last week’s endorsement of former Vice President Al Gore by winning support from additional party heavyweights.

He has won praise — but not endorsements — from Govs. Jim Doyle of Wisconsin, Janet Napolitano of Arizona, Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania and Bill Richardson of New Mexico. His campaign is also courting Michigan Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm.

Democratic officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Granholm and Doyle are longshots to back Dean while Napolitano has recently expressed a willingness to endorse a candidate. Her state holds a critical Feb. 3 primary.

Lobbying Rendell
Rendell and Richardson have said they won’t endorse a candidate until the nomination is sealed up. However, in one measure of Dean’s all-out lobbying effort, Rendell’s office has received 1,200 letters from Dean supporters urging the governor to endorse their candidate.

Democratic lawmakers and other sources speaking on condition of anonymity said they learned of McGreevey’s decision Monday.

McGreevey will ask all party leaders and county Democratic chairmen to back Dean, sources said.

The decision came after Dean and McGreevey met earlier this month, sources said.

McGreevey has met with Dean, Sen. Joe Lieberman and Sen. John Kerry, of Massachusetts, Rasmussen said.

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