WASHINGTON -- The slow-starting Democratic presidential campaign picked up momentum yesterday as Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, a leader of the moderate wing of the party, announced that he is forming an official exploratory committee -- a step toward a formal declaration of candidacy.
Mr. Clinton also resigned as chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, a group of moderate-to-conservative elected officials concerned that their party has been taken over by liberal special-interest groups. This was taken as a strong sign that he intends to run, since it effectively disassociates him from any single wing of the party.
A 44-year-old former Rhodes scholar now serving his fifth term as governor, Mr. Clinton has traveled widely in the past 17 months, organizing DLC chapters and arguing that both the Democrats and the nation need to change course.
He has charged President Bush with neglecting America's domestic problems, especially education, health and child care. But he has also pressed Democrats to emphasize individual responsibility, put work ahead of welfare and stand for a strong defense.
At a news conference in Little Rock, Mr. Clinton said that he had not definitely decided to run but that he would make up his mind by the end of September.
If he enters the race, he will join former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas, the only declared candidate in the contest for the Democratic nomination.
Mr. Clinton's strengths include his personal charm and intelligence, his speaking ability and his record as an effective chief executive in Arkansas. He is the nation's senior governor in time of service and was voted the most effective governor by his peers earlier this year.
Among his liabilities, he is almost unknown outside Arkansas and party circles. And he may be regarded as too conservative by liberal Democratic activists who dominate the nominating process.