Earle C. Clements, 88, a former U.S. senator and Kentucky governor who held several high Democratic Party posts, died of a heart ailment March 12 at his home in Morganfield, Ky.

He served in the House of Representatives from 1945 to 1947, when he was elected to a four-year term as governor. He served as governor until November, 1950, when he was elected to the Senate. Running for a second term in 1956, he was narrowly defeated by Thruston B. Morton, a Republican.

During his term in the Senate, Mr. Clements gained a reputation as a Senate insider and party loyalist. He had a seat on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and furthered his state's tobacco interests with a seat on the Agriculture and Forestry Committee.

He also held several important posts in the Demoratic hierarchy in the Senate. In 1952, he was chairman of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, and the following year he was elected Democratic whip, the second-ranking post in the party leadership.

In 1955, during the illness of then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Tex.), he was acting majority leader. He also was a member of the Democratic National Committee and was active in the 1952 presidential campaign of Adlai E. Stevenson.

Although he did not run for elective office after 1956, Mr. Clements remained an influential figure in the inner circles of his party. He founded the Kentucky Democratic organization that has produced most of the state's governors in the last 40 years, as well as two former congressmen, William Natcher and the late Carl D. Perkins.

In 1959, Mr. Clements was instrumental in the nomination and election of Bert T. Combs as governor against a party faction led by former governor A.B. (Happy) Chandler, and he served for a time as state highway commissioner in the Combs administration.

In 1960, he helped organize Johnson's campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. When the nomination went to John F. Kennedy, Mr. Clements is said to have been one of those who persuaded Johnson to accept the vice presidential nomination on the ticket.

Mr. Clements was born in Morganfield, which is near the Ohio River in the western part of the state. He attended the University of Kentucky. During World War I, he was an Army infantry officer. He coached high school football and then in the early 1920s he became sheriff of Union County, of which Morganfield is the seat.

During the next 20 years, he served as sheriff, county clerk and finally as county judge, an administrative post in Kentucky. He spent two years in the state Senate, during one of which he was the Democratic Party leader, and then was elected to Congress.

As governor, Mr. Clements was credited with founding Kentucky's park system, reforming the State Highway Patrol to protect it from political pressure and revising an unpopular property tax assessment system. He also led a successful fight to enlarge the state education budget.

His wife, the former Sara Blue, died in 1976. Survivors include their daughter, Bess Abell of Washington, who was a personal assistant to Lady Bird Johnson in the White House.