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Gore slips back into the wings

TECHNICALLY, Al Gore, the vice-president-elect, will beat his senior partner, Bill Clinton, into the White House today. At the inaugural ceremony on the West Side of the Capitol, he will take his oath of office first, to be administered by a retired Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall.

The nation, though, and, via satellite, much of the world, will be saving its fullest attention for the swearing-in, by the Chief Justice, William Rehnquist, of the 42nd President of the United States of America, William Jefferson Clinton. How the relationship between the two halves of the new leadership will operate thereafter remains a matter of speculation.

Doubts have been raised about what kind of role Mr Gore will play. A report in Sunday's New York Times argued that since the election campaign, when Mr Gore was portrayed as a virtual equal to the presidential candidate, the Tennessean has discreetly been shuffled into the wings, with little access to the president-elect's ear.

There is little to suggest that Mr Gore will escape the fate of so many former vice-presidents, relegated to playing second fiddle to the Oval Office. During the euphoria last autumn over the Clinton-Gore ticket, it was suggested that Mr Gore may be given a seat in the cabinet, perhaps even as Secretary of State. Nothing like that has happened. Meanwhile Hillary looks like being Mr Clinton's most important confidante.

In the public run-up to today's ceremonies - the bus ride from Monticello on Sunday and various functions in town - Mr Gore has always shown up beside Mr Clinton. He is rarely allowed to speak, however, and cannot help but look awkward while Mr Clinton dominates. At a joint appearance before students at Georgetown University, Mr Gore was obliged to seek the like-minded by yelling out: 'Are there any environmentalists in this crowd?'

Specifically, the New York Times reports that Mr Gore's advice on cabinet appointments was more or less passed over. He was said to be disappointed that Mr Clinton chose Tom McLarty, a personal friend of his alone, as White House Chief of Staff. He and his wife, Tipper, were allegedly offended when they were missed off an invitation list to a dinner honouring the Clintons given by the publisher of the Washington Post.

As successor to Dan Quayle, however, Mr Gore would seem not to have too hard an act to follow. Mr Quayle is returning to private life in his native Indiana, where he will sit on boards, make public appearances and perhaps write a book. Only a few still believe he may have a shot at the Republican nomination for president next time. But he recently confided: 'If I ever run for public office again, it will be for president.'

(Photographs omitted)