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Former Massachusetts Gov. Edward King, once labeled President Reagan's...

BOSTON -- Former Massachusetts Gov. Edward King, once labeled President Reagan's favorite Democratic governor, became a Republican Monday to set the stage for his third battle with political arch rival, Gov. Michael Dukakis.

King, appearing at ease before a horde of reporters who jammed his investment firm office, said he will delay a final decision on another campaign until late this year or early next year. But King added he has GOP support if he should opt to run.

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King stunned Dukakis with a 10 percent win in the 1978 primary, only to fall by 6 percent in 1982.

The former governor insisted he could garner support from 15 percent of the delegates to the 1986 party convention -- the minimum needed for a ballot spot. The affiliation change, he said, instead represented a rejection of party principles.

'To people like me, the Democratic Party was a party that stood for economic and social opportunity ... the Democratic Party we grew up in and made our own was not a party of extremes,' said King.

'The truth is simply that the Democratic Party has ceased to be the party of the sensible center and has become a party dominated by professional liberals. Today, the Republican Party, rather than the Democratic Party, can and will be the party of the sensible center.'

The switch adds King to a growing list of former Democrats who changed sides over growing dissatisfaction with the liberal wing that has dominated the state's majority party.

Dukakis declined to speculate on the wisdom of King's decision, adding 'next year is plenty of time for politics.'

King changed his affiliation at 8 a.m. EDT at the town clerk's office in his hometown of Winthrop.

In Washington, White House spokesman Larry Speakes said, 'We welcome Gov. Kifg to the ranks of the Republican Party. The message that Gov. King conveys in his plans to affiliatewith the Republican Party is clear.'

Speakes said conversions to the GOP are 'occurring with more ald more frequency throughout the country,' but called King 'one of the highest ranking state officials' to make the switch.

'In the case of Gov. King, it is particularly noteworthy that this latest switch comes from a state that has been known as a Democratic stronghold,' Speakes said.

He said more than 100 Democrats who have changed parties in recent weeks will be welcomed to the GOP by Reagan at the White House one week from Monday.

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