Al Gore's Got a New Manager... and the Manager Has a New Candidate

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Tony Coelho was Al Gore's dark side, a champion fund-raiser and short-tempered manager who couldn't even go on the Sunday talkies for fear of getting asked about the pending State and Justice Department investigations into his ethics.

By all accounts, he whipped a flabby Gore operation into something like fighting trim by cutting costs, establishing a chain of command and getting Gore to loosen his iron grip on campaign minutiae. Coelho made the Gore campaign what it is today — shape-shifting, unsure of how best to proceed, but very much within striking distance of George W. Bush.

Now, for reasons of health — and the fact that nobody, not even Gore, was heard to be able to get along with him — Tony's gone. Enter William Daley.

The current commerce secretary's last name (he's the son of legendary Chicago mayor/ boss/ kingmaker Richard Daley) implies all that it should about Daley. TIME White House correspondent Karen Tumulty calls him "a total nuts-and-bolts political mind, with a very clear sense of what works and what doesn't." Toting none of Coelho's ethical baggage, Daley's also fit for surrogate duties in front of the cameras, and, one assumes, a nicer guy to have around the Nashville digs. As Tumulty says, "the stylistic differences couldn't be greater." We read you.

Q&A time:

Q: "I wonder," drips Bush communications director Karen Hughes in Friday's New York Times, "whether naming a new chairman involves yet another reinvention of the Gore campaign."

A: Not exactly. Gore's latest self-makeover predates Daley by at least a week. It's the "prosperity and progress tour," which, like many of Gore's slogans, doesn't roll off the tongue as well as it could. But it plays to the strengths of the sort-of incumbent. Gore will highlight, again and again, the booming economy and skyrocketing surpluses and insist he's got wiser ways to spend the dough than Bush. Safer ways to save Social Security and Medicare. A better, targeted tax cut — targeted being the operative word, as opposed to Bush insistence on an across-the-board that helps rich folks too — which Gore upped to $500 billion after hearing about extra surplus dough coming down the fiscal pipe. Gore's even going to try to sell an enviro-business angle to woo corporate donors, in which cleaning the planet can be good business.

But why waste your best stuff in June, months before voters start paying attention? "Some would say, 'What's taken him so long?'," says Tumulty. The plan: Stick to the positive stuff, the vision stuff, the I-am-Al-Gore stuff until August. Get the voters to feel comfortable with Gore as economic steward. And then hit 'em with the fear and loathing — the "risky scheme" Gore — all fall.

"It looks like the fall campaign will be straight hand-to-hand combat in the swing states," says Tumulty. Gun control in New Jersey. Social Security in Michigan. "He thinks he can win on the issues if he can keep it close until then."

That's where Daley, master arm-twister, consummate backroom pol, comes in. Daley's job will be to keep the operation lean and on schedule, and keep Gore's political radar finely tuned at all times. But he does carry one piece of baggage: His ardent and very effective muscling of the China trade bill through the House last month. Gore did some serious tiptoeing to deflect most of the unions' ire onto Clinton, who could afford it; now Gore's got the China bill's — and NAFTA's — main champion as his right-hand man.

In what was hopefully a misprint, Chicago Democrat Rep. Rod Blagojevich summed it up in the Times: "There are some wounds out there in the labor community that need to be heeled." Any card-carrying Daley knows a thing or two about that.