Democrat Bill Bradley continued his leftward shift last week with the boldest statements to date by any presidential candidate on gay rights.

The former New Jersey senator, in an interview with the Advocate magazine, said he would eliminate the Clinton administration's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military and would go beyond legislation to protect homosexuals in housing and employment matters. He also became the first candidate to oppose a California initiative against same-sex marriage.

Bradley brought his own unique approach to the debate over gay rights by saying he links the issue to racial harmony in America.

"We also should add sexual orientation to the 1964 Civil Rights Act," he said in the interview due on newsstands Sept. 28. "That would clearly indicate that discrimination against gays is in the same category as discrimination against other protected groups."

Bradley's remarks brought a skeptical response from civil rights leader Jesse L. Jackson, who worried aloud that reopening the 1964 law may invite the GOP-led Congress to pare back other protections.

Bradley's comments also forced Vice President Gore to finally take a position on the California ballot question, known as the Knight initiative. In his interview with the magazine last month, Gore said he needed to study the proposal, but by late Thursday night, Gore spokeswoman Kiki Moore said the vice president had been "educated" on the proposal and now opposes it. Bradley and Gore still oppose same-sex marriage, largely for religious reasons, but say gays and lesbians should receive domestic partner protections.

The Race Not to Be Second

The nominating process begins earlier and earlier: Iowa Republican leaders voted yesterday to move their caucuses up a week to Jan. 31 in an effort to retain Iowa's status as the nation's first major presidential testing ground.

Democrats may do the same, Iowa party chairman Rob Tully told the Associated Press, if New Hampshire follows through with plans to move up its primary to Feb. 8, which it's considering because South Carolina moved its contest to Feb. 19, up from March 7.

New Jersey Players All Over Chessboard

The Republicans' Nightmare in New Jersey continues.

First the GOP's star candidate to succeed retiring Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D), Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, had the nerve to say she would prefer to concentrate on her job rather than mount an expensive, time-consuming and by no means easy Senate race.

Then, Rep. Bob Franks announced he would run, leaving Republicans with a vulnerable House seat to defend.

Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo (R) is "seriously considering" the race, according to a spokesperson, and, while LoBiondo has won increasingly easy reelections, his South Jersey district leans Democratic (President Clinton carried it twice).

It doesn't end there. Former GOP representative Dick Zimmer, a proven fund-raising powerhouse who narrowly lost a Senate bid in 1996, could get in the race as well. Trouble is, Republicans are counting on Zimmer to try to win back his old House seat by taking on freshman Rep. Rush D. Holt, a vulnerable House Democrat.

Zimmer would join a GOP Senate primary that already includes Franks, Essex County Executive Jim Treffinger and former Libertarian candidate Murray Sabrin and could expand to include, among others, state Sen. William Gormley, Port Authority of New York & New Jersey Chairman Lewis Eisenberg and former governor Thomas H. Kean.

As if these permutations aren't enough, Whitman's decision also threw a monkey wrench into at least one Republican's plans to ascend to the governorship. State Senate President Donald DiFrancesco would have been appointed acting governor had Whitman won, giving him a huge leg up going into the 2001 governor's race.

Staff researcher Ben White contributed to this report.