WASHINGTON - For the third time, Al Gore's campaign has a new manager. Commerce Secretary William M. Daley was named campaign chairman yesterday after Tony Coelho resigned, citing health reasons.
News of the shuffle overshadowed Gore's latest attempt to reposition his presidential candidacy and claim a measure of credit for the booming national economy. It also highlighted the vice president's repeated struggles to keep his campaign on track against a resilient Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
But Democratic politicians predicted that the shakeup would be a plus for Gore in the long term. Daley, a highly regarded political manager, is expected to smooth over divisions within Gore's organization while reaching out to the party's core constituencies and elected officials.
"Bill Daley is one of the finest political minds I ever worked with," said Raymond Strother, a veteran Democratic campaign consultant who is not involved in the campaign.
Daley, 51, is the son of legendary Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley and brother of the city's current mayor, Richard M. Daley.
One longtime Chicago associate said Daley has a rare combination of personal and political skills that would help pull together what has been a fractionalized and strife-ridden campaign organization.
"He has an instinctual gut instinct for what real people think and an ability to subjugate his own ego that is totally unlike most of the folks who come out of Washington," said David Axelrod, a Democratic consultant.
Gore, who appeared with Daley at a Cincinnati campaign stop yesterday, praised the departing Coelho as a "valuable friend and adviser." He said he would continue to seek his advice.
Daley, Gore added, "will be in complete charge of the campaign."
But longtime Gore media consultant Carter Eskew is likely to remain the most influential campaign aide, shaping overall strategy with pollster Harrison Hickman and consultant Robert Shrum, according to several present and former Gore aides.
One of Shrum's partners, Tad Devine, recently moved to campaign headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., to help oversee day-to-day operations. Several Gore sources said that Donna Brazile, who carries the title of campaign manager, would have her role reduced as part of the continuing staff shuffle.
Coelho has often been a magnet for controversy, and his long-rumored departure removes a potential political liability for Gore.
Coelho has been the subject of several investigations, including one involving his work as head of the U.S. pavilion at a 1998 exposition in Lisbon, Portugal. He has also been blamed for dissension within the campaign and for Gore's failure to maintain his earlier lead over Bush in the polls.
According to a statement released by the campaign, Coelho called Gore on Wednesday night from a hospital in Northern Virginia to say that he was stepping down on his doctors' advice.
Coelho, who has epilepsy, said he has suffered three seizures this year. He was hospitalized this week for treatment of diverticulitis, an inflammation of the large intestine or colon.
"I just hit a wall, and my health comes first," he told the Associated Press.
The Bush campaign, which has avoided similar staff shake-ups, sent get-well wishes to Coelho and a jibe to the Gore camp over its revolving-door leadership.
"I wonder whether naming a new chairman involves yet another reinvention of the Gore campaign," said Karen Hughes, Bush's communications director. "Which Vice President Gore will campaign next week?"
Daley is to leave the Cabinet officially July 15. He has served as commerce secretary since January 1997, succeeding Mickey Kantor.
As a special White House assistant in 1993, Daley played an instrumental role in winning congressional approval for the North American Free Trade Agreement. He has strong ties to core Democratic constituencies and elected officials around the country, and has good relations with many national reporters.
Coelho, a former California congressman, took control of a faltering Gore campaign in May 1999, replacing former White House aide Craig Smith.
Criticized by some as heavy-handed, Coelho fired a number of veteran Gore advisers and pushed others deep into the background. He secured the crucial, early endorsement of the AFL-CIO and helped Gore sweep the primaries against former Sen. Bill Bradley.
But once Gore wrapped up the nomination in early March, his campaign began to appear flat and directionless.
Coelho took personal responsibility for what many regarded as Gore's worst political mistake: his attempt to distance himself from Clinton administration policy by urging that Elian Gonzalez be granted permanent residency. Critics called it a blatant case of pandering for Florida votes.
Once the third-ranking Democrat in the House, Coelho resigned abruptly in the middle of his term in 1989 after his personal financial dealings were called into question.
He returned to Washington five years later, after a brief but highly lucrative career on Wall Street, to direct strategy for the unsuccessful Democratic effort to maintain control of Congress.
Two years ago, he served in a volunteer capacity as head of the U.S. Mission to the World Exposition in Lisbon. In October, a State Department inspector general's report accused Coelho of misusing funds for personal spending and airline tickets, and of giving a job to his niece.
He has also reportedly been under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for activities involving his personal business holdings. His lawyer has denied any wrongdoing by Coelho, and Gore had repeatedly expressed confidence in his longtime friend.