U.S. Rep. Jim Slattery, D-Kan., said Thursday that he is leaning toward endorsing Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.
"I'm leaning toward Bill Clinton, but I'm not going to make a public announcement for awhile," Slattery said.
From among the five major Democrats in the race, Slattery has narrowed his list to two people: Clinton and U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska.
Slattery said he's leaning in favor of Clinton because he believes the governor can carry more Southern states in the November general election.
"I think that it's important to nominate someone capable of winning in November," he said. "For Democrats to win the presidency, we have to win in the South. Democrats must win those states to get in the game."
WITH THE abrupt withdrawal of Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder on Wednesday, Clinton is the only Southerner left in the Democratic race. Wilder was expected to be Clinton's major rival for votes in key Southern primaries.
"I think Wilder's removal will help Clinton in the South," Slattery said.
The only time Democrats have won the presidency since 1964 was with a southerner, Jimmy Carter.
The three other Democratic contenders are former California Gov. Jerry Brown, U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa and former U.S. Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts.
Slattery said Clinton is the candidate most capable of carrying the kind of message that needs to be carried in the next presidential election.
"His experience as governor (12 years) in dealing with domestic issues at the grass-roots level is what is critically needed at the White House," he said.
ASSUMING President Bush will win the Republican nomination, Slattery said, "When Clinton matches up with George Bush, he'll look very good."
Slattery said he expects the Democratic field to narrow after the New Hampshire primary Feb. 18.
"I expect Tsongas to win New Hampshire, but that will be the end of his campaign," Slattery said. "And I don't think Harkin can win in Texas, Florida, Georgia, Alabama and other Southern states. Brown is definitely not in the picture."
In the 1988 Democratic presidential campaign, Slattery endorsed U.S. Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo. Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis received the party's nod, but lost to Bush.