President Clinton spent four days touring impoverished areas of America--and was totally overshadowed by his wife.

Vice President Gore and George W. Bush kept on running for the White House--and were totally overshadowed by the first lady.

Judging by the early coverage of Hillary Rodham Clinton's all-but-announced Senate bid, she may draw more ink and air time than the presidential race, Kosovo, the stock market, the World Series and Ricky Martin combined. MSNBC stayed on live from the Pindars Corners, N.Y., farm where Clinton was to make her debut for an hour before her arrival, chatting up every reporter and quasi-expert in sight.

The emerging question is not so much whether the New York press will be tough on Clinton as whether the relentless, combative, high-decibel roar of the media will drown her out (along with likely GOP opponent Rudy Giuliani). When the first lady held a school event in Oneonta, the cable networks showed her wordlessly speaking while a parade of columnists, politicians, activists, analysts and anyone with a New York accent talked over her. The balance of power was clear.

Clinton kicked off her first news conference by calling on NBC's Andrea Mitchell. A couple of questions later, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan stepped in and recognized Gabe Pressman, the dean of New York newsmen, who undoubtedly matters more than the Washington hotshots in a state election. (Clinton stiffly called Gabe--Gabe!--"Mr. Pressman.")

No opinion was left unuttered during the Hillaryfest. Newsday's Jimmy Breslin told CNN that "a lot of people on television and in newspapers just write drivel" and that Clinton will lose badly. CNBC's Chris Matthews declared that no man would say, "Make me a U.S. senator because my wife's been cheating on me." Others said Clinton is already plotting her 2004 presidential bid.

The conservative New York Post greeted Clinton with an editorial ("The Hillary Sleaze Factor") and an Andrea Peyser column calling Clinton "a woman so deluded she believes she can bend the rules, stomp on friends and squander taxpayer money without penalty." The next day, a Deborah Orin column was headlined "She'd Be Nothing but an Empty Carpetbag."

"The New York Post is a huge factor," says New York magazine columnist Michael Tomasky. "When people talk about the rough New York press, what they're really talking about is Rupert Murdoch's Post and its taste for wrecking her candidacy."

Orin says she was merely examining how effective Clinton would be as a minority-party lawmaker. "She will face a much tougher press in New York than she's ever had to face," Orin says of the campaign. "Rudy Giuliani gets tougher questions every day than Joe Lockhart does."

But she says much depends on Clinton's performance: "If people look at her and say they're really excited, all the press coverage is not going to be a problem."

CNN analyst Jeff Greenfield says the media overkill--even the rehashing of Whitewater and other scandals--could help Clinton. "Maybe all of this ceaseless coverage will render the carpetbagger issue irrelevant," he says. "She'll have a year to run around New York. It will be like she's been here forever. It already feels like she's been here for five years."

But a mayor also has ways of making news, and the New York tabloids wound up trumpeting not Clinton's debut but Giuliani's rage at an upper Manhattan blackout. The Post's screaming headline: "RUDY BLOWS A FUSE."

Feud Alert

Mickey Kaus, who recently left Slate magazine, has just landed one to the solar plexus of Joe Klein.

On his new Web site, Kausfiles.com, Kaus quotes a New Yorker piece in which Klein said nice things about George W. Bush for his support of "faith-based" social programs.

"Joe! Wake up! You're falling in love again!" Kaus fairly shouts. Calling Klein "the journalist who did more than any other to get Bill Clinton elected," Kaus tells Klein he has "a history of picking out useful little ideas and then blowing them up into grand de facto litmus tests." Bush, he writes, knows that "by emphasizing the idea in conversations with you he'll have you swooning. . . . It makes you look like a bit of a sucker."

Klein, while "flattered" that Kaus thinks he's so influential, categorically denies any swooning. He says he's discussed faith-based programs with Bush only once, and that was three years ago.

"As for my famous crush on Clinton, I was criticizing Clinton on welfare reform before Mickey Kaus discovered welfare reform," Klein says. "You could look it up."

Recalling all the time he's spent visiting religious programs, he adds: "If Mickey wants to actually go out and look at these programs, that'd be a public service. But Mickey doesn't do that. He just kind of opines about them, so I really can't take it seriously."

The New Drudge?

Speaking of Web sites, the latest cyberpresence is Lucianne Goldberg, of Monica fame. And she makes clear where she stands.

"We are unredeemably conservative and not particularly compassionate," the New York literary agent and Linda Tripp pal writes in the "mission statement" for Lucianne.com.

Goldberg declares her "hatred" for Hillary Clinton, denouncing her "inane platitudes and banal pronouncements" and taking a whack at the "Clinton loving press." In an effort to furnish what she calls "libel-free gossip," Goldberg passes on "wild rumors" about the first lady, whom she dubs the "First Bore."

"It's something I've wanted to do for the last year because so much stuff pours through here," Goldberg explains. "I've admittedly been giving a lot of stuff to Matt Drudge. I thought, jeez, enough already! I'll keep it myself."

Parting Shot

"There will be a celebrity pet dieting exercise show on this slot starting Monday. . . . What about that prediction Matt Drudge will be the president of NBC News?"--John Hockenberry, saying farewell on his canceled MSNBC show.

Naked Truth

Penthouse and the Philadelphia City Paper are in a bit of a tiff over the Condom Lady.

Thirteen months ago, the Philadelphia weekly ran a piece on the aforementioned lady, a pirate broadcaster who was doing her radio show in the nude for the first time. The paper described her as having "long freckled legs" and "short, spiky auburn hair," sitting on a "folding metal chair" and using "several scented candles" as she "swivels a knob on the mixer."

This month, long after the Philly station closed, Penthouse recounted that same day. Penthouse freelancer David Kushner described the woman as having "spiky brown hair and long freckled legs," "lighting candles," sitting on a "metal folding chair" as she "wiggled a few knobs."

Howard Altman, the paper's news editor, fired off a letter about "this outright theft of material." Penthouse Editor Peter Bloch apologized, saying the magazine would run an editor's note expressing "regret" for not crediting City Paper. But Bloch says Kushner "not only interviewed the Condom Lady on the telephone but also had extensive e-mail interviews with her."

Headline of the Week

"Al Gore Should Pick This Jew for His Running Mate"--the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Ben Wattenberg's column about Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.).