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Biden ultimately helped secure the diplomat's confirmation, and in partial thanks, Holbrooke recently threw a Waldorf dinner in the senator's honor. That night, the living room was deep with media heavies: The New York Times contingent included columnists William Safire and Anthony Lewis and editorial-page writer Steven Weisman and his wife, City Hall reporter Elisabeth Bumiller; also there were Newsweek's Jonathan Alter and Ed Bradley of CBS. "What amazes me is his relationship with the press," enthused Biden the next day. "It's a phenomenal asset. His contacts exceed those of most presidential candidates."

As it happens, one of Holbrooke's other guests that evening was Karenna Gore Schiff, the daughter of a presidential candidate. Holbrooke would certainly make the shortlist for secretary of State in a Gore administration. The ambassador and the vice-president go way back: Holbrooke stumped for Gore in New York back in 1988, the last time the former Tennessee senator ran for president, and now they talk frequently. The morning after Al Gore and Bill Bradley's first debate this fall, Holbrooke was positively jubilant, proclaiming, "Al was really pumped up."

Holbrooke, however, isn't banking on an Al Gore presidency; he knows the future may not work out as planned. He often refers back to the horrifying accident in Sarajevo when his top aides were killed and he and Clark were shelled. "If I'd gone in the other vehicle," he says haltingly, then adds, "if I'd gone on Ron Brown's plane" -- Holbrooke had helped in the arrangements for that fatal flight -- " . . . A friend told me I should have been dead twice already." But then he sits up straight and insists that what-ifs and might-have-beens don't keep him awake at night. "There's no point in being haunted," he says. "Isn't life always a question of inches?"


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