Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.) is pulling almost all of his ground troops out of Iowa.

Effective immediately, the Gore campaign will reduce its field staff to four, from 21, in the state that on Feb. 8 will hold the first caucuses in the nation, campaign manager Fred Martin announced yesterday. Gore will campaign there only sporadically.

"There is no point in investing resources, time and money to play a game that is not suited for a national candidacy," Martin said. "We won't out-promise, out-pander or out-visit the other candidates . . . . If that's what it takes to win, we won't play that game. Nor do we have to. We're not putting all our eggs in one basket."

The decision -- and Martin's stated rationale for it -- was received in Iowa and by Gore's rivals as a "hollow" effort to dress up a tactical defeat in the garb of principle. "Al Gore has never been anything but a spoiler in Iowa," said Steve Murphy, Iowa campaign manager for Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.). "He made a decision to adopt a southern-oriented strategy," said Iowa Democratic Chairman Bonnie Campbell. "I'm not sure there is a great deal of benefit in adopting any regional strategy."

Martin said the Gore campaign is "husbanding its resources" for "Super Tuesday" -- March 8, when 20 states, 14 of them in the South or on its border, will choose nearly a third of the delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

But he said that the campaign, which employs about 130 people overall and 70 in "field" jobs throughout the country, will continue to keep a staff of 19 in New Hampshire, which holds the first primary Feb. 16, a week after the Iowa caucuses. "We are in New Hampshire because we have supporters there," he said.

Gore said in a speech to the Iowa Jefferson-Jackson Dinner last week that Iowa activists impose litmus tests on candidates that drive the party to the left and make it more difficult for it to win the presidency.