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Clinton Support Builds as Tsongas Says He Won't Re-Enter the Race

By John Fairhall
and Tom Bowman

The Baltimore Sun

Washington

Congressional support for Bill Clinton is growing in the wake of Paul E. Tsongas' announcement Thursday that he would not re-enter the Democratic presidential race.

Tsongas did not endorse Clinton, but he acknowledged that the Arkansas governor would be the presumptive nominee.

Although former California Gov. Jerry Brown Jr. remains in the race, his defeats in Tuesday's primaries have quieted some of the concern about Clinton's viability.

A group of 16 or 17 House Democrats who met Wednesday to discuss the Democratic candidates are now likely to back Clinton, said Rep. Don Edwards (D-Calif.). All in the group are uncommitted "superdelegates" who are free to support any candidate.

"I think a lot of us will endorse him," Edwards said Thursday. "Everybody agrees he's getting a lot stronger."

Arkansas Rep. Beryl Anthony Jr., who is courting superdelegates for Clinton, was hoping to meet Thursday night with congressional supporters of Clinton to encourage them to lobby their colleagues and their constituents on his behalf. He said that Clinton's House supporters increased by at least two Thursday: A pair of lawmakers, whom he would not identify, told him, "I'm ready to work with you."

Other lawmakers who remain uncommitted said they wanted to discuss Clinton's position on various issues when he visits Capitol Hill, probably in early May, following the congressional Easter recess and the Pennsylvania primary April 28. Barring a downturn in Clinton's fortunes, it appears increasingly likely he will get the superdelegate support he would need to secure the nomination before the convention in July.

Texas Sen. Lloyd M. Bentsen -- who is often mentioned as an alternative to Clinton -- may make an announcement in a week or two, according to an aide. If he does, it is expected to be an endorsement of Clinton.

In all, there are 772 superdelegates, including party officials, governors, and more than 200 members of Congress. Clinton has 200 superdelegates, which together with the number he has won in the primaries gives him 1,267. He needs 2,145 to be nominated.

It was those numbers that led Tsongas to forgo a second try, despite finishing second Tuesday in New York and drawing votes in three other states without having campaigned. "We did very well," he said at a news conference in Boston, "but so did Bill Clinton."

"That winning removed the argument that my re-entry would rescue this party," said Tsongas, who had suspended his campaign in late March for want of money but reconsidered last weekend when it appeared Clinton might lose in New York and Wisconsin. "Indeed, his winning took me back to the option that I rejected three weeks ago -- the role of spoiler. I reject that role."

Tsongas conceded that at least part of the vote he received Tuesday was a "protest" rather than a vote for him to be president. Even so, Tsongas did not seem ready to let go hope of becoming the nominee should a disaster disable the Clinton campaign.

He refused to endorse Clinton while Brown was still in the race and said that he would continue fundraising, albeit to retire his own campaign debts. And, while he told his volunteers to stop working, he would not tell the public not to vote for him in upcoming primaries. "My name will remain on future ballots. If people wish to express support for my message and to seek to become delegates, that is their choice, but I will not re-enter the race."

Asked if he would consider being Clinton's running mate, Tsongas answered coyly, "I would defer on that question."