It was past midnight last Wednesday when the phone started ringing inside Bill Daley's Washington home. Roused from his sleep, the Commerce Secretary groped for the receiver and heard Al Gore on the line. Soon Gore was asking Daley to leave Bill Clinton's Cabinet and take over as chairman of Gore's campaign. After a deep breath, Daley said he'd like to discuss the matter over a cup of coffee.
"O.K., I'll hold the phone," the Vice President replied. "Go make some coffee."
Daley laughed. "You mean you want to talk now?"
"Yeah, I'll hold. Make some coffee."
Gore couldn't afford to wait. He was midway through the week that was supposed to start turning his campaign around--a week featuring a new "prosperity-and-progress" message, a new New Gore (this one less of an attack dog than the old New Gore) and a new goody bag of policies designed to seize the upper hand from George W. Bush. It had been an encouraging week so far--the press coverage respectable, the stump speech more effective and the rally at the airport near Scranton, Pa., so big and noisy it reminded Gore of the glory days of the 1992 campaign. But now his shiny new message was about to be knocked off the front page by a familiar sort of mess. Tony Coelho, Gore's embattled campaign chairman, had just told the Vice President he was resigning. It was exactly the kind of news Gore didn't need stepping all over his big week.
After 45 minutes on the phone, Daley agreed to take the job, and Gore's week started looking up again. In fact, once the smoke clears, replacing Coelho with Daley may end up being the reason this really was the week Gore turned his campaign around. Daley, a sharp political operator who is the brother of Chicago's mayor and son of the city's legendary boss Richard Daley, helped win the election for Clinton in 1992 with his handling of Illinois and the Middle West. And he has the standing to take Gore's economic message to the Sunday talk shows, where the controversial Coelho hasn't been seen.
Officially, Coelho resigned for health reasons, and his maladies are real. He suffers from epileptic seizures, and checked into a Virginia hospital last week because of diverticulitis, an inflamed colon. Also, Coelho told a friend that an MRI had revealed a cyst on his brain, which may be the reason he has been suffering more frequent seizures. Tipper Gore and campaign manager Donna Brazille visited him last Tuesday; the next day, when Brazille called, Coelho told her, "It's not good."