Democratic James E. McGreevey became the first governor to endorse Howard Dean (search), saying the former Vermont governor shares his support for middle-class families.

"He knows this campaign is about more than just changing presidents. It is about our children's education, improving our economy and protecting our environment," McGreevey said in prepared remarks distributed prior to a joint appearance with Dean Friday morning.

About 300 union members, Dean supporters and New Jersey Democrats crowded a hotel ballroom for the endorsement announcement. About 50 state party leaders were also on hand to back Dean. They included U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (search) and 15 of the state's 21 county party chairmen.

New Jersey Democrats won't choose their candidate until the June 2004 primary. This early endorsement helps the state push its agenda with the national campaign, Democrats said.

The Dean campaign has been pushing for support from fellow Democrats, hoping to build on the momentum from Dean's recent endorsement by former Vice President Al Gore (search).

Dean called McGreevey's endorsement an honor. "He is a powerful addition to the greatest grass roots campaign presidential politics has ever seen."