Wolf Role Elicits Howls From Pro-Gore Women

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So whose idea was it to keep controversial feminist author Naomi Wolf's role as adviser to Al Gore's struggling presidential campaign under wraps? Hers, according to the account she offered in the New York Times. But that was news to some Gore campaign officials, who said Wolf had been agitating for a more public profile. She finally blew her own cover with her ostentatious presence at Gore's New Hampshire forum with Bill Bradley two weeks ago, where she ignored suggestions to stay away from reporters, say Gore advisers.

Wooing the women's vote was a big reason that Wolf was hired. But ironically, few were more surprised — or angrier — to learn that Gore's campaign was paying bigger bucks for Wolf's advice than it was to the vice president's allies among women political activists. For months, they have been urging the veep's campaign to do more nuts-and-bolts politicking among women, to hire someone to oversee women's outreach, to put together a network of grassroots female opinion leaders. And for months, they have been told there was no money for it, or that the timing simply wasn't right. After one splashy luncheon with 1,200 women in Washington last September, the campaign's effort to mobilize women largely fizzled. Meanwhile, polls kept showing Gore trailing George W. Bush among crucial female voters. "I understand the frustration," a Gore adviser conceded. "It happens all the time."

Now Gore's women allies of the more conventional stripe have learned what the campaign has been doing with some of the money they have been denied: paying Wolf $15,000 a month. That amount was reduced to $5,000 only when campaign manager Donna Brazile found out about it. "Some of the people who were most concerned were those who were working hardest for the campaign," says a White House official, who was drafted by the campaign to call around and soothe injured feelings.

One way the campaign is hoping to mend fences is to bring back pollster Celinda Lake. A specialist on the women's vote and a favorite of many Democratic activists, Lake was hired with great fanfare months ago, then promptly sidelined. She is expected to be taking a larger role, working in tandem with lead pollster Harrison Hickman. Gore also plans to meet with two dozen or so influential Democratic women to talk strategy and policy.