When Vice President Gore led a flotilla of canoes down the Connecticut River last month, he paddled into an unexpected controversy. Now the Republicans are trying to make a federal case of it.

The facts may never be established beyond a reasonable doubt, but the New Hampshire Republican Party nonetheless wants the Federal Election Commission to wade into the dispute.

The state party alleges that Pacific Gas & Electric, the local utility that released some extra water into the river to prevent Gore's canoe from running aground, may have made an illegal contribution to the Gore campaign. The Gore campaign has said from the beginning that it never asked for the extra water, and Gore supporters say his political opponents are now in over their heads.

The volume of water is in question: 4 billion gallons, 97 million gallons and more than 97 million but far less than 4 billion have been cited.

Since the canoe trip, New Hampshire residents have had a crash course on the rates the utility charges for electricity it generates by releasing water at different times of the day. Now the FEC is being asked to determine whether the utility violated prohibitions against corporate contributions to federal candidates.

The campaign may be over before this dispute is settled.

A Hill of a Greeting for Gore

Some Democrats on Capitol Hill have been grumbling they don't have much direct contact with Vice President Gore. They note that despite his 16 years in Congress, Gore did not form many lasting personal relationships and in recent months, his campaign deputies are as likely to make the trek up Pennsylvania Avenue as he is.

But if Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr.'s experience is any guide, some of those lawmakers might want to reconsider their desire for one-on-one time with the veep. Last week, Biden told Time magazine that the vice president's office did not take kindly to Democrats who spoke well of Gore's Democratic rival, Bill Bradley.

No sooner had the magazine hit the streets than Gore was on the telephone with his former Senate colleague from Delaware. A source close to Biden described Gore as "upset by the item" and noted Biden is considering endorsing Bradley. As word of Gore's rapid response spread on Capitol Hill, aides to both men scurried to "clarify." Gore simply called to say he'd like Biden's support, the post-spin goes. And Biden, aides now say, may stay neutral in the presidential primaries.

Gore already has the endorsement of more than 100 members of Congress, but Bradley caused a stir when he picked up two former colleagues, Sens. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) and Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.). Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) is also thinking of throwing his support behind Bradley.

Jesse on the Body Politic

Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, proving his Reform Party credentials, is pushing for the elimination of 134 legislative jobs.

"Millions of dollars every year is being paid of our tax dollars to support Republican positions and Democrat positions where their only job is politics. Their only job is spinning and supporting of the power struggle between the two parties," Ventura said Friday on his weekly radio show.

The four legislative caucuses have research staff assigned to them. The leaders defended the staff as necessary to respond to constituents and conduct research on many complicated issues.

Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, a Democrat, told the Associated Press that the radio comments were "vintage Governor Ventura" and added, "Once again, he doesn't know what he's talking about." House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, was gentler, if more patronizing: "I know the governor is new at this and so we have to cut him some slack, but on this one, he's simply wrong."

Party Pushes Secession

Men in Civil War uniforms climbed onto a platform draped with an oversized Confederate flag in Flat Rock, N.C., yesterday to witness the birth of the Southern Party, which was welcomed with a volley of ceremonial gunfire. The party's goal is to elect governors and legislative majorities in the former Confederacy and vote to withdraw from the United States.

The party is "dedicated to limited government, low taxes, maximum individual liberty, a free market and self-determination for Dixie," Reuters quoted Southern National Committee board member Ron Holland as saying.

"We are often asked if our affinity for the Confederate national symbols of southern sovereignty are also indicative of an attitude of racial malice towards people of non-European origin, or racial bigotry towards people of non-Christian faith," said Texas Southern Party chairman George Kalas. "The simple answer to this question is a firm no. Southerners are not a race, they are a people."

Staff writer Ceci Connolly contributed to this report.