Gephardt Says He's Backing Gore for President

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The Democratic lineup for 2000 tightened considerably on Monday. House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt endorsed Vice President Al Gore for the presidential nomination, leaving the only other declared Democrat, Bill Bradley, to mine ever-shrinking political terrain. "The Gephardt endorsement makes Gore look even more formidable than before by shoring up the centrist vice president's connections to the liberal wing of the party," says TIME Washington correspondent John Dickerson. Add to the mix Gore's "incredible fund-raising operation" and the "Democratic nomination looks like even more of a slam dunk for Gore," says Dickerson.

Once archrivals intent on gunning each other down, the two new allies have something important to gain from their new friendship. For Gephardt, the prize is to become Speaker of the House. "Gephardt believes he has a real shot at the post, given the popular disenchantment with the Republican performance on impeachment," says Dickerson. "The endorsement allows him to leverage his ambitions off Gore's momentum." For Gore, the impetus is the ability to focus more on his electability -- a proposition that looks more problematic at the moment than winning the Democratic nomination. For despite the current Republican disarray over whom to pick and where to take the GOP on issues, both George W. Bush and Elizabeth Dole lead the vice president in the polls.