Vice President Gore is already cranking up his effort to appeal to female voters with a letter to thousands of them this week.

Women have been crucial to President Clinton's electoral success, and Gore has to make sure he holds those voters in light of Texas Gov. George W. Bush's success with female voters last year and recent polls suggesting strong appeal among women for Elizabeth Dole.

"Women will play a pivotal role in the upcoming elections," write Reps. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Calif.) and Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.). "As leaders in the women's community, we are asking you to join with us and play a leading role in this campaign."

The letter lists Gore's accomplishments on issues especially important to women, including abortion rights, pay equity, health care for uninsured children, and tax breaks and child care credits for the working poor. "Starting from his first days in Congress, Al Gore has maintained an unprecedented record of support for women and issues that impact our lives," they wrote.

The letter asks women to help build a nationwide grass-roots campaign by signing a form pledging to work on the Gore 2000 campaign.

Gore campaign spokesman Roger Salazar said other female leaders across the country also have been collecting pledges on the vice president's behalf. The campaign will hold a rally Tuesday at the Mayflower Hotel "to kick off our women for Gore effort." And leading the rally -- none other than Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Governor's Payment to David Duke Probed

Is David Duke, the Louisiana Klansman-turned-political-candidate, the target of a federal grand jury? His lawyer says yes. Duke reportedly has twice refused to answer grand jury questions about $152,000 he received from Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster (R) during the 1995 election campaign.

Foster has acknowledged making the payment, which he said came from his own money for the purpose of buying a list of Duke supporters. The federal investigation apparently is looking into whether the payment was actually in exchange for Duke's withdrawal from the race.

Duke, who recently lost a bid to represent the state's 1st District in Congress, said on a radio show last week that he is unsure whether he reported all of the Foster money on his tax returns. He has denied that he was paid to drop out.

Louisiana Republicans are worried that the investigation, if it results in indictments or other charges, could be a severe blow to Foster as he runs for reelection this year. At the moment, the governor is far ahead of New Orleans Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) in the polls.

Staff writer Thomas B. Edsall contributed to this report.