You won't find her anywhere on the Al Gore campaign roster. Nor is she listed in the internal campaign budget, where she appears only as "consultant." Yet the mere mention of her name has a way of rendering campaign officials nearly speechless. One offered only that she was "helping out" on "outreach." Another adviser downplayed her as a "wardrobe consultant." Sighed yet another normally chatty adviser: "I couldn't begin to talk to you about that."
Maybe every campaign needs a mystery consultant, a mad genius who can turn a candidate into something bigger than himself. Inside the Gore camp, that role seems to have fallen to Naomi Wolf, feminist, best-selling author and outspoken advocate of female sexual power, who has quietly emerged as one of the most curious forces inside the ever more curious Gore operation. Just exactly what Wolf does remains a puzzle even to many inside the campaign. But whatever it is, someone must think it is worth a lot. Sources tell TIME that since Gore 2000 set up shop in January, Wolf has been paid a salary of $15,000 a month--all quietly funneled through a web of Gore-campaign subcontractors--in exchange for advice on everything from how to win the women's vote to shirt-and-tie combinations. Wolf wouldn't talk about her role for the record, and neither would Gore-campaign chairman Tony Coelho or message chief Carter Eskew. "She's a smart person who has interesting ideas," said a brave adviser, who then promptly hung up.
Some of those ideas might help explain why the candidate and his campaign have been so reluctant to say anything about Wolf. In her most recent best seller, Promiscuities, Wolf argues, among other things, that schools should teach teenagers the techniques of "sexual gradualism"--masturbation, mutual masturbation and oral sex--because it is more realistic than abstinence and safer than intercourse. "If we teach kids about other kinds of sexual exploration that help them wait for intercourse until they are really ready, we let girls find out about their desire...and let kids have an option not to go immediately 'from zero to 60.' Teaching sexual gradualism is as sensible as teaching kids to drive."
It is hard to imagine that Wolf has pushed this specific idea on the candidate. But Wolf has a way of popping up at make-or-break moments for Gore. She spent three days last week in New Hampshire with the Vice President, helping prepare him for the debate on Monday and Tuesday and then watching the televised event on Wednesday. Afterward, while Gore spent 90 minutes answering questions from lingering audience members, Wolf sat half a dozen rows back in the auditorium, dressed in black, watching her client intensely. "I don't think I can properly describe her role," said an adviser. "I don't think she relates to anyone but Gore."