Gov. James E. McGreevey's (search) first public choice for president failed to win a single state primary, and now the New Jersey Democrat is backing the apparent front-runner.

McGreevey has decided to back John Kerry (search), saying the Massachusetts senator is the Democrat who can beat President Bush.

"Clearly Senator Kerry, by virtue of his intellect, experience as a war hero and in the United States Senate, will be the standard bearer of the party," McGreevey told The Associated Press Monday. "He possesses the seriousness and the practical wisdom to challenge the president on the issues of the day."

McGreevey made the announcement Sunday at an event in Paramus to discuss water pollution. The endorsement was not part of his public schedule, and it was not announced by his staff.

In December, McGreevey and several prominent Democrats held a political pep rally to endorse Howard Dean (search), the former Vermont governor.

More than 600 union members, political aides and elected officials heard McGreevey back Dean, saying, "We need a president who believes that the most important things in America are the economy, the environment and our children's future."

That early announcement was not a mistake, McGreevey said Monday.

Before that announcement, McGreevey met with both Kerry and Dean, as well as several of the other potential candidates.

Dean got the endorsement, but since that campaign derailed, Kerry has gotten stronger, McGreevey said.

"Senator Kerry has clearly sharpened his message," McGreevey said. "Dean provided a valuable service in sharpening the message and offering a clear contrast."

McGreevey spoke recently to Dean, after he ended his presidential bid.

"I spoke of his purpose and drive," McGreevey said. "It was a positive, constructive conversation."

The party now needs to come together behind Kerry, he added.

Republicans dismissed the endorsement.

"On the heels of endorsing the most liberal presidential candidate last December, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, Jim McGreevey has now seen fit to endorse the most liberal Senator in the United States Congress," said state GOP leader Sen. Joseph Kyrillos, R-Monmouth. "At least we know Governor McGreevey is consistent on something."