Okay, so last week wasn't the best one Lamar Alexander ever had.

First, the Republican presidential candidate announced he had to lay off several senior staff members because of fund-raising problems. Then the pundits start preparing his political obituary.

Not so fast.

Alexander plans to announce Tuesday that he is the first GOP candidate with campaign chairmen in place in all of Iowa's 99 counties.

"The caucuses are a test of grass-roots organizational strength, and the fundamental building block of grass-roots organization is county leadership," said Brian Kennedy, national political director of the Alexander campaign. "Alexander is the first to have his in place, and the others will have to play catch-up."

Dee Stewart, executive director of the Republican Party of Iowa, said organization is key to winning the important Aug. 14 Iowa straw poll as well as the caucus.

"Lamar has spent a lot of time here," Stewart said. "He's invested a lot, and frankly, he's got a lot of support out in the counties. He's got a leg up if indeed he makes that announcement."

Gore's Expedited Declaration

Aides to Vice President Gore have said he would formally announce for president this fall.

So word from the campaign last week that he would announce June 16 in Carthage, Tenn., took some political observers by surprise.

But there's a logic to it. For many weeks, Gore aides have been hand-wringing about the need for Gore to step out of President Clinton's shadow and establish his own identity. Moving the date of his presidential announcement up, the thinking went, would help voters identify him as something other than No. 2.

"Our feeling was that Gore could not continue to be defined by the role of vice president all through the summer," political consultant Bob Squier, a close friend of Gore, told Reuters on Thursday. "The decision to go ahead and declare has already energized him a lot and the entire campaign."

A Gore spokesman confirmed that point of view but said other concerns factored into the decision, most notably the pressure to campaign earlier because of next year's front-loaded primary and caucus calendar in the states.

"The vice president has made a conscious effort to begin engaging the American people in a dialogue," on education, faith-based organizations and other issues, said spokesman Chris Lahane. "He's ready."

Rep. Frank: GOP's `Right Wing Is Nuts'

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), an openly gay member of the House, contends that the Americans learned from the impeachment of Clinton that the Republican Party is controlled by sex-obsessed conservatives.

"Americans saw who really controls the Republican Party," Frank said in an interview to be published in the next edition of Playboy magazine. "They saw that the right wing controls the party, and they saw that the right wing is nuts."

The GOP is not only dominated by right-wingers, according to Frank, it also is dominated by sexual hypocrites. Noting that Republican leaders pushed through the Defense of Marriage Act allowing states to bar same-sex marriages, Frank said, "They're saying that my ability to marry another man somehow jeopardizes heterosexual marriage. . . . Then they go out and cheat on their wives. That doesn't jeopardize heterosexual marriage? It's nonsense."

Big Apple to Little Rock

New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani plans an unlikely fund-raising stop next month for his Senate campaign: Arkansas, home turf of possible opponent Hillary Rodham Clinton.

His Little Rock trip will turn the tables on Clinton, who has made 10 visits to New York this year amid rumors of her candidacy for the seat being vacated next year by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D), the Associated Press reports.

Arkansas Republicans say the visit could be lucrative for Giuliani. "There are some people here who would give money to anyone who ran against Hillary Clinton," said Chris Carnahan, director of the Arkansas GOP.

Staff writer Thomas B. Edsall contributed to this report.