WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton helped persuade Rep. Michael Forbes of New York to defect from the Republican Party but ``it was not a hard sell,'' White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said today.

Forbes, a moderate who was elected to Congress in the 1994 Republican landslide, announced his switch to the Democratic side Saturday, saying the GOP had become captives of extremists.

Forbes visited the White House before Congress' July 4 recess and met with chief of staff John Podesta. The congressman said he wanted to talk with the president, and Podesta took him to the Oval Office for a conversation that ran nearly an hour. The president also spoke with Forbes by telephone once more before his decision and then again after.

Forbes told Clinton his switch was a difficult decision but ``he was just more comfortable with where the Democratic Party was'' on issues such as the patient's bill of rights and tax and budget issues, Lockhart said.

``It was not a hard sell,'' the spokesman said. ``I don't think the president tried a hard sell. But he certainly made it known that the Democratic Party welcomed him, welcomed independent thinking, the big tent we've talked about.''