Vice President Gore beefed up his campaign staff and moved to shore up support on Capitol Hill yesterday as his Democratic rival prepared to collect a key Senate endorsement.
Democratic sources said yesterday that former senator Bill Bradley (N.J.) will receive the backing of Sen. Bob Kerrey (Neb.) on Monday at a pancake breakfast in Nebraska. Although Kerrey's decision was not a surprise -- he has long had testy relations with the Clinton administration -- the timing was unfortunate for Gore, who in recent weeks has been overshadowed by the strength of Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) in fund-raising and the polls.
The vice president suffered another setback yesterday: The national United Auto Workers union renounced the decision of its Iowa chapter to back Gore.
UAW president Stephen P. Yokich said only the union's executive board was empowered to make endorsements for national office. "As far as what reportedly happened in Iowa," he said, "while they are entitled to their opinions, a group of less than 20 members in Iowa does not speak for the International Executive Board of the union and no one should think that they do."
In an attempt to strengthen its political team, the Gore campaign is hiring media consultant Carter Eskew, pollster Celinda Lake and policy coordinator Lauren Choi. Eskew, a veteran of Gore's congressional campaigns, will help craft the overall campaign message.
Eskew's hiring presents some interesting internal dynamics in an organization that has had trouble keeping harmony among various competing factions. He left the Gore fold after a bitter split with media adviser Bob Squier. Last year, the Gore-Eskew relationship was frayed when the former aide led the tobacco industry's massive effort to kill anti-smoking legislation.
Lake joins Clinton-Gore pollster Mark Penn. Gore also receives advice from pollsters Paul Maslin and Mark Mellman. The division of duties was not immediately clear.
Still unresolved is whether Gore's chief of staff, Ron Klain, will remain. Sources confirmed yesterday Klain has been considering a move to the private sector and has not made a decision. Gore spokesman Chris Lehane said more hires are in the offing.
At the same time, the Gore team attempted to reassure lawmakers that the campaign is on track. Gore met with freshmen Democrats, while top advisers blanketed the Capitol with memos touting recent endorsements, polls and other data.
Gore also got a boost yesterday from President Clinton, who said he was "bewildered" by reports of tension between the two. "I honestly do not know what the source of the stories are, but they are not in my heart or my mind," Clinton told reporters. "You know, I want him to get out there, and if he disagrees with a decision that I make as president during the next year and a half, then of course he will have to say so, and I will take no offense at that."
Gore also appeared at a Capitol Hill news conference to plead for congressional approval of the administration's $7.8 billion, 20-year plan to restore the Florida Everglades.
CAPTION: Flanked by lawmakers, the vice president urges Everglades restoration.