And now, the winners of the Third Annual Gore Halloween Costume Contest. Unlike last year's focus on Buddhist monks, Monica Lewinsky and independent counsel Ken Starr, this year's entries shifted to themes related to the presidential election, the millennium and the perennial Internet or computer ideas. (A half-dozen suggested the Gores dress as the Clintons to "really scare people.")

The most popular themes were costume combinations of computers, printers, keyboards and mice, though those outfits might tend to be too bulky. A more practical idea came from Jerry A. Sesco, who retired last year as a researcher at the U.S. Forest Service. He suggested that Al and Tipper Gore go as Y2K bugs.

Another strong theme was Vice President Gore's country roots and the campaign's move to Nashville. Noting the move to the center of the country music world and Gore's need to accelerate fund-raising, "preferably nontraceable contributions," Steve Baldwin, a self-employed economist from Bethesda, said the Gores should dress as Johnny and June Cash. Department of Commerce speech writer Scott Dykema suggested "Col. Sanders and Tipper the Southern Belle," which would help on the country theme and "might even help him carry neighboring Kentucky."

Also on fund-raising, Charles Boesel, press secretary for Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), thought the Gores "should BOTH dress up as Democratic fund-raiser Terry McAuliffe and trick-or-treat up and down K Street. It's probably the ONLY way they can catch up to George W."

A half-dozen suggestions were that the Gores dress as Bill and Ernestine Bradley. James N. Markels, assistant director of public affairs at the Cato Institute, offered that "at least that way they can look like a politically viable couple again," while R. Scott Stoermer, legislative director for Rep. Michael P. Forbes (D-N.Y.), thought the costume might "trick the Teamsters into endorsing him on Halloween."

Tom Mezzio, formerly a talent coordinator for "Saturday Night Live," suggested Gore as Ricky "La Vida Loca" Martin and Tipper as singer-actress Jennifer Lopez "to really lock down the Latino vote."

Thanks to all for entering and congratulations to the winners. If Gore is still stumped about what to wear at the Halloween press party Sunday at the vice president's residence, how about that olive or green or whatever suit he wore for the debate in New Hampshire Wednesday night?

50,000 Reasons to Break a Hold

Sometimes even the insiders are puzzled by the Clinton administration's moves. Back on Oct. 6, Hillary Rodham Clinton called Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) from Slovakia. Reporting on what she'd been hearing there, Clinton said Slovakia, struggling to overcome four decades of communist rule, had been making great strides at becoming a prosperous democracy, thanks in part to U.S. help.

But they need a U.S. ambassador, she said, and Grassley was holding up the administration pick, advertising executive Carl Spielvogel, for reasons that had nothing to do with him or Slovakia.

Grassley said he'd like to oblige, but he was holding up that nomination, along with those of career foreign service officer A. Peter Burleigh to the strategic Philippines and broker and banker nominee J. Richard Fredericks to stable Switzerland, because he was unhappy with the State Department's treatment of whistleblower Linda Shenwick, who worked at the United Nations. Grassley had pledged not to lift the holds until "good faith negotiations" were reopened to resolve her situation.

Then a few days ago, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), called President Clinton on other matters and the Grassley holds came up. Apparently there was some discussion about maybe one hold being lifted if the White House pledged to move things along on the Shenwick matter.

Next thing you know, the White House is sending word to Grassley that it would like to see a hold lifted, but not on Spielvogel or Burleigh, but on Fredericks. Grassley agreed, after receiving a commitment that the White House would intercede to see if something could be done about the Shenwick matter.

Presto! Wednesday night, there's a new ambassador to Bern. Some people are complaining this makes absolutely no sense as a foreign policy matter. But that's not what these things are all about. And it's not just that Fredericks, among other things, appears to have given the Democrats $50,000 more than Spielvogel did in the last few years.

White House folks say they still believe the other two will be confirmed, especially Burleigh. Remains to be seen . . .

Bill Who?

Speaking of Hillary Clinton, her 52nd "surprise" birthday party in the Rose Garden Tuesday focused on the family's move to New York and the things they would need. President Clinton recorded the new telephone answering machine message, played for the assembled staffers: "Hi. You've reached the home of Senator Clinton. If you'd like to reach the senator, press 1. If you'd like to leave a message for Bill, the chair for this year's Senate spouses luncheon, press 2. If you're calling for Chelsea, press 3--but if you're a boy, just hang up now."

Her chief of staff, Melanne Verveer, gave the usual birthday toast wishes for good health and all that, and then got to the important stuff: "good shoes, good hair and skin as thick as a rhinoceros."