McCain's Magic Moment

* For John McCain--whose presidential campaign is surging in New Hampshire while his autobiography is climbing the bestseller lists--the planets are suddenly in alignment. "Yeah," the Republican senator from Arizona told us yesterday, "but they can be knocked out of alignment just as quickly. . . . No doubt I'll be making some mistakes. I've got several speeches to give today, and I'm sure I'll screw one of them up."

McCain phoned us from the airport in Atlanta, on his way to Jacksonville, Fla., in the middle of a week spent touting his political prospects and pushing his book, "Faith of My Fathers." It's the saga of his grandfather and father, both famous Navy admirals, and of his own crucible as a downed Navy pilot who spent 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war.

Like the just-published autobiography of his front-running rival, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, McCain's book is the product of a collaboration with a trusted aide--in this case, administrative assistant Mark Salter. But unlike Bush's "A Charge to Keep," McCain claims he wrote his book with little thought of running for president. "When I decided to write the book, I was leaning against running. Otherwise I doubt I would have written about Marie, the Flame of Florida. I'm not sure voters will be overjoyed to know I once dated a woman whose line of work is usually conducted in the evening hours."

Gore Confidant in Divorce Court

Superlobbyist Roy Neel, who makes around $600,000 a year as president and CEO of the United States Telecom Association, hoped to take an unpaid leave of absence next year to help his old friend, Vice President Gore, win the White House. But first, Neel--who was Gore's top aide in the House and Senate and then President Clinton's deputy chief of staff before leaving government in 1993--is trying to conclude his acrimonious divorce from Suzanne Neel, 51, his wife of 28 years and the mother of their three sons, aged 13, 15 and 19. Roy has acknowledged his affair with 49-year-old Regina Clad, a married friend of the family.

Yesterday, after three days of searing public testimony in D.C. Superior Court, the couple stopped the trial to revive settlement talks and move their dispute behind closed doors. But this week's proceedings before Judge Stephanie Duncan-Peters has already aired noxious details: The Neels separated in late 1997, when Roy, now 54, moved out of their $550,000 home in Chevy Chase. In July 1998--over Suzanne's objections, she claims--Roy bought a $635,000 home on Allendale Place NW, where he now lives with Clad, a part-time legal assistant, and her two teenage children. Clad, whose oldest child is off at college, is in the middle of divorcing her husband, Lester Dally, another Neel family friend who works for the World Bank in Tokyo.

Meanwhile, the Neels were haggling over everything from custody of their children to alimony and child support to the division of around $2.6 million in assets, including a vacation home on Kiawah Island, S.C., a spread in Tennessee and $1 million in savings and retirement accounts. Yesterday one of Suzanne's lawyers asked Roy on the stand if he intends to marry Clad. "Perhaps someday," he replied. The litigants and their attorneys refused to comment.


* WRC early-morning news anchor Joe Krebs was at Washington Adventist Hospital yesterday to undergo an angioplasty and recover from a heart attack he suffered Sunday while riding his bike in Montgomery County. "Because he's in such great shape, there is minimal damage, and that probably could be attributed to him being a healthy guy," Channel 4 News Director Bob Long told The Post's John Maynard. Krebs, 56, hopes to be home by week's end. In an e-mail dictated to his wife, Mary Lynne, and sent to the entire Channel 4 staff Monday, Krebs exhorted evening anchor Doreen Gentzler: "Hey, Doreen! How about heart attacks for November sweeps? Woah!"

* We hear that among the 240 New Year's Eve guests at the White House Millennium Dinner celebrating "creators and inventors" will be Muhammad Ali, Robert De Niro, Elizabeth Taylor, Kathleen Battle and, wouldn't you know it, Arthur Schlesinger.

* Maybe our down-in-the-dumps Redskins will get a morale boost at Redskins Stadium today when players and staff help serve an early Thanksgiving dinner to homeless families from six area shelters.