Before moving into the Texas governor's mansion, George W. Bush owned a house in Dallas with a covenant restricting occupancy to "white persons only, not excluding bona fide servants of any race."

Replying to reporters' questions yesterday, Bush's presidential campaign released a brief statement saying that the covenant on the house Bush owned from 1988 to 1995 was irrelevant because the provision was "null and void under Texas law."

Campaign spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said that when Bush and his family lived in the house, he didn't know about the language written into the four-page deed document on file in the Dallas County land records office.

"No buyer or seller would have known because it wasn't listed on the deed that is signed," but on an addendum filed with the county.

"All the houses in that neighborhood have it," she said, adding that homeowners can remove the covenant only after an arduous and expensive legal process.

Bush purchased the home on Nov. 16, 1988, days after his father's election as president, for $320,000. He sold it for $348,000 in January 1995. The covenant was first revealed Monday by online gadfly Matt Drudge.

When Bush's father was vice president, the magazine the Nation reported that in 1981 the senior Bush bought a Houston property whose deed contained a similar restrictive covenant.

When a Spokesman Says Too Much

Meanwhile, Bush's campaign experienced its first major staff shake-up yesterday with the abrupt departure of veteran press spokesman David C. Beckwith. Beckwith's firing was announced in a terse press release that gave no reason for his departure. But campaign sources said Bush had been displeased with Beckwith's acknowledgment that he deliberately understated Bush's campaign fund-raising figures for the first half of the year to hype the political reaction.

When reporters checked with Beckwith just before the June 30 filing deadline, he endorsed estimates of $20 million to $23 million circulating in Republican campaign circles, in itself an impressive sum. The next day, the campaign announced the total was $36 million -- producing an even bigger gasp, but also triggering stories that Beckwith had misled reporters. Beckwith acknowledged he had known the more accurate number but "did not want to say."

Beckwith, who had just moved his family from Washington to Austin, was not available for comment last night, but campaign aides said "there were differences of style and tone" that made Bush uncomfortable with him.

The ousted aide has had a long history with the Bush entourage. He covered President George Bush's 1988 campaign for Time magazine and after the election accepted Bush's offer to become Vice President Dan Quayle's press secretary, a post he held until the end of the administration. He left a public relations job with EDS Corp. to move to Austin last spring.

Early Endorsement, but Not Too Early

The "Former Colleagues for Bill Bradley Committee," a rather exclusive group, will pick up its third member in retiring Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York -- but not right away.

Moynihan has told friends that he is ready to endorse the former New Jersey senator's bid for the Democratic presidential nomination but that Bradley "is in no hurry." So look for an announcement some time after Labor Day.

Bradley was on the Finance Committee when Moynihan was chairman. The relationship between Moynihan and Vice President Gore, sources say, was distant enough that Gore inadvertently introduced himself -- "Hello, I'm Al Gore" -- to the bemused New York senator at a Washington reception earlier this year.

Bradley's first two endorsements came from Sens. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota and Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, both of whom had explored challenging Gore themselves.

All's Fair in Love and Politics

Call it the spouse strategy.

The Democratic governors of New Hampshire and Iowa have decided to remain neutral in the presidential contest -- at least for now. But that doesn't mean their independent-thinking partners have to sit on the sidelines.

So yesterday when Gore arrived in Iowa he was greeted with some welcome news: the endorsement of Christie Vilsack, wife of the newly elected governor, Tom Vilsack.

"I know he stands for working families in this country," she said. Last night, Gore slept in the governor's mansion in Des Moines. Already on the Gore team is Bill Shaheen, husband of New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen.

Gore, beginning a two-day swing in the state that hosts the first presidential caucuses, made a play for the farm vote, telling several audiences that he jawboned Republican congressional leaders at the White House on Monday to revise the 1996 Freedom to Farm Act.

Aides say he wants to restore a "safety net" that would build in additional agriculture subsidies to help farmers survive fluctuations in the market. "It's not working as it was advertised," Gore told activists in Council Bluffs.

Staff writers John Mintz and Ceci Connolly contributed to this report.