Clinton's faint praise damns Gore

ONE YEAR and a day before Americans vote to select his successor, President Bill Clinton praised the field of candidates, complimenting his Vice-President's main rival for the Democratic nomination, Bill Bradley, and the Republican front-runner, George W Bush, on the quality of their campaigns. Mr Bradley was "an intelligent, a compelling man with a good life story", while Mr Bush was "a very accomplished political leader" with "good instincts for where the political centre is".

Mr Clinton, who was speaking in a recorded interview for CBS television's breakfast show yesterday, appeared less effusive about his Vice-President and personal choice, Al Gore. "By historical standards, he's doing quite well," he said. "People want to see the Vice-President out there establishing his own identity with his own programme for the future, making clear where he wants to go. If he does, I think he will be nominated. And I think he's doing a good job of that now."

It was not the first time that Mr Clinton has seemed non-committal about Mr Gore's prospects. At a White House press conference last month, he said that he had made his preference clear but would support whichever candidate the Democratic Party nominated.

Mr Gore has been equally ambivalent about whether to capitalise on his association with Mr Clinton. A few weeks ago, he hinted to The Washington Post that he had asked Mr Clinton not to campaign for him, but he reversed that position not long afterward.

Mr Clinton's remarks were broadcast just as the Democrats' electoral fortunes seemed to be turning. Convinced for months that the best they could hope for - in view of the Clinton scandals and a strong Republican candidate - was to regain control of the House of Representatives, Democratic voters have now started to believe that the White House may not be a lost cause. Republicans, meanwhile, are starting to contemplate just the sort of messy contest for the nomination that they hoped to avoid.

Mr Bush escaped with cuts and bruises from an accident during his daily jog when he had to leap out of the path of a lorry that had run out of control and on to the jogging trail. Mr Bush was well enough to leave for a campaign trip to New Hampshire yesterday, as planned.