Democrat Erskine Bowles became the fifth candidate to officially file for U.S. Senate on Wednesday as two dozen of his supporters cheered outside state Board of Elections offices.

After spending about 10 minutes inside with state Elections Director Gary Bartlett going over the state candidacy forms, Bowles said he is more optimistic than ever about his campaign.

He added he that he believes voters are also supportive.

"They want someone who knows and understands this state. But they also want someone who really cares," Bowles said.

The Charlotte investment banker and former White House chief of staff dismissed notions that ties to the Clinton administration could hurt him. Bowles is running for the seat being vacated by GOP Sen. Jesse Helms.

"No one was tougher on President Clinton for his personal failings than I was," Bowles said.

Still, he said he was proud of the public accomplishments of the administration.

"We did the right things. We balanced the budget in the right way," Bowles said.

Bowles was joined by his wife, Crandall, his son, Bill, and sister, Holly Blanton, as he filed the election forms.

He faces at least three opponents in the Democratic primary -- Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, former House Speaker Dan Blue and former Durham City Council member Cynthia Brown.

On Tuesday, Bowles won the endorsement of the AFL-CIO labor union, a move that surprised many Democrats given his business background. Blue and Marshall have also been strong labor supporters over the years.

The union's leaders said it is backing Bowles because of his record in the Clinton administration and because he has the best chance of beating Republican Elizabeth Dole, the GOP front-runner.

Bowles also won the backing of House Speaker Jim Black on Tuesday night. Black told a group of the Bowles' supporters that he is lending his personal support while stopping short of an official endorsement for the sake of party unity.

Brown and Marshall have already filed their candidacy papers with the state. All the Senate candidates have already filed federally with the secretary of the Senate.

GOP Senate candidates Ada Fisher and Venkat Challa also have filed. Dole also is expected to file.

Also Wednesday, incumbent GOP U.S. Reps. Howard Coble and Sue Myrick filed for re-election. Democrat Ray Warren, a former Charlotte judge, filed to seek his party's nomination for the 8th District congressional seat now held by Republican Rep. Robin Hayes. Democrat Sam Davis of Elizabeth City filed for the 1st District seat being given up by Rep. Eva Clayton.

The filing period, which began Monday, continues through March 1.

State lawmakers delayed this year's filing period to wait for U.S. Justice Department approval of new legislative and congressional district maps.