`Badluckgate' hits Gore once again

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TRY AS Vice-President Al Gore may, his presidential campaign is still strewn with difficulties - some of his own making, but others, such as this week's renewed spotlight on the vicissitudes of the Clintons' marriage, down to sheer bad luck.

An agonised public discussion of Hillary Clinton and her marriage was just what the Gore campaign did not need at this juncture; but for fascinated Americans to have two pretexts for reopening the debate - the interview given by Mrs Clinton for the inaugural issue of Talk magazine, and a new book on the Clintons, Christopher Andersen's Bill and Hillary: the Marriage - looks as if it is bad management.

The interview, with Mrs Clinton's references to her husband's "abuse" as a child and her own response to his serial infidelities as a "weakness", has revived an impassioned debate about Mrs Clinton's motives in marrying and staying married.

The book has second-hand chapter and verse on a romance that Mrs Clinton is supposed to have conducted with her law partner colleague, Vince Foster, back in Arkansas, and more about the Clintons' relationship, but that hardly matters. The result is talk shows and phone-ins and letters columns and Internet message boards and coffee shops overflowing yet again with impassioned speculation about the Clintons' domestic arrangements. And that is decidedly not in Al Gore's interest.

Mrs Clinton may have had a reason for getting her position "out there", to defuse the marriage issue before her expected Senate campaign starts in earnest, and now, it seems, maybe also to counter the recycled allegations in Mr Andersen's book. For Mr Gore, however, they simply remind Americans of the adverse side of the Clinton presidency - a presidency in which Mr Gore, for standing by Mr Clinton, is morally and politically tarnished by association.

America's re-engagement in the Hillary debate illustrates yet again how the interests of Mrs Clinton and Mr Gore will diverge if, as looks inevitable, they campaign simultaneously for elected office. Whatever the final assessment of her interview - whether it has helped or harmed her candidacy - it is one of the few questionable judgement calls of her semi-declared campaign.

For Mr Gore, on the other hand, it is just the latest misfortune to befall his electoral bid. Earlier this week, it was disclosed that his chief of staff, Ronald Klain, is to leave the White House for a California law firm.

Mr Klain, who has held the White House post for almost four years, said he had told Mr Gore earlier this year that he intended to leave before the end of the campaign, but the timing of his departure was linked to the arrival of Tony Cuelho, former Congressman and lobbyist par excellence, to head Mr Gore's election campaign. While the shift of power in the Gore camp away from the vice-presidential team to the campaign team was predictable and timely, Mr Klain's departure reinforces the impression that Mr Gore is finding difficulty in building a coherent team and keeping his staff.

Rightly or wrongly, it also sends the signal that senior members of Mr Gore's staff lack confidence that he can win. Why would Mr Klain leave, the reasoning goes, if he expected to become chief of staff to the President?

Mr Gore is also still catching flak from a 20-minute canoe trip he made in New Hampshire two weeks ago, when the local water authority pumped millions of gallons of water into the drought-stricken river, allegedly to keep the Vice-President's canoe afloat.

Mr Gore, who has tried to follow Mr Clinton's advice to be seen in smaller, more natural and relaxed settings, let it be known that he had nothing to do with the decision to release the water.

Whether bad luck or bad judgement, though, "canoegate" or "rivergate" (the name "watergate" is already taken) is just an especially memorable example of the sort of mishaps that have dogged the Gore campaign, and could prove hard to live down.