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Cracks in the party line

The race is on for candidates to distinguish themselves from peers

As Euripides didn't quite put it, "Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad ... at each other."

What I'm talking about is Democrats and Republicans, who seem to be fighting their opponents a lot less than they are fighting among themselves.

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Or at least that's the way it seems if you follow the leaks to the media.

Take President Clinton and Vice President Gore. For six years we have been hearing about how well they work in tandem and we have seen pictures of Gore listening with rapt attention while his mentor speaks.

Then, as it must to every vice president aspiring to go higher, the time comes when Gore says, in effect, "Today I am a man." And, without exactly dumping on the president, he talks of bringing his own values to the presidency. Get it?

So next, presidential aides and advisers, whose identities are known only to the New York Times, let it be known that Clinton is "angered and hurt ... very upset" about the way Gore is dissing him. Other top aides, their identities known only to the Washington Post, say it ain't so ... the two are as friendly as ever.

But the damage is done.

And add Hillary Clinton's probable senatorial candidacy to the mix, and the question is: Who in the White House is helping whom, and who is hurting whom?

The Republicans have a different internecine problem. Texas Gov. George W. Bush has collected a record amount of money - $36.5 million - but he has been losing the support of conservative activists who accuse him of various heresies on matters like gun control and abortion.

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There is talk, in New Hampshire and elsewhere, of conservatives like Sen. Robert Smith discussing whether to bolt from the Republican Party, whether, indeed, to form a third party.

That is the most serious potential obstacle that Gov. Bush has yet faced - the first concerted effort of true-blue conservatives to defeat a Republican standard-bearer.

The pragmatism vs. principle issue cuts through Republican ranks at every level.

Ward Connerly, sponsor of California's anti-affirmative action amendment, has run into trouble in Florida, where Gov. Jeb Bush considers such a ballot a losing issue for Republicans.

Candidate Bush is not the first to face a party threatening to split at the ideological seams. Candidate Gore is not the first vice president to have to look over his shoulder at a president with dubious coattails.

Both of them might well say, "I can take care of my enemies. Protect me from my friends!"

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