Bush campaign urges Gore to agree to end counting

By DAVID ESPO

Associated Press

George W. Bush’s campaign floated a compromise plan to bring an end to the contested presidential election today, but Al Gore moved swiftly to reject it. The two White House rivals sweated out the uncertainty of Florida court rulings and slow-moving hand recounts in the campaign that refused to die.

Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III said Republicans would agree to accept the results of any hand recounts completed by a 5 p.m. deadline set by the secretary of state if the Democrats would drop their insistence on prolonging them. At the same time, he envisioned the two sides agreeing to drop dueling lawsuits.

Otherwise, he said, “When is it going to end? I ask you, when is it going to end?”

But several Democratic officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Gore high command would reject the offer. The vice president’s top campaign aide, William Daley, was in a meeting with congressional Democrats when Baker spoke, and officials said he was poised to provide the response.

Baker stepped to the microphones in the Florida Capitol an hour or so before an expected ruling on the validity of the 5 p.m. deadline set by Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the state’s top elections official.

Top state officials issued conflicting legal opinions. Lawsuits – and the threat of them – proliferated as the post-election campaign neared the end of its first week.

Baker said his offer also envisioned the state counting overseas absentee ballots as planned on Friday night – one of the few issues not embroiled in the Florida dispute.

Beyond that, he committed the Bush campaign to abandoning its opposition to the continuation of the hand recounts it has consistently sought to block – but only if the Gore campaign agreed not to seek to extend the recounting beyond the deadline set by the Florida secretary of state.

That represented at least a modest change in the Bush position, which had been that no recounts were proper.

“If you are suggesting that we take no risk by this proposal. I would argue with that rather strongly,” Baker told one questioner. He noted that Bush’s narrow 388-vote could yet evaporate and that either side could carry the overseas ballots.

Baker stepped to the microphones in the Florida Capitol shortly after officials in Volusia County said that despite efforts to wrap up a recount by 5 p.m., “we need an extension” that county lawyers were already seeking in court.

Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris has already said she won’t grant one, and it was up to Circuit Judge Terry Lewis to rule on whether to stay her hand and permit the counting to continue.

In Miami-Dade County, officials voted at midmorning to begin a manual recount of three precincts, a possible prelude to a countywide recanvass.

There was confusion in Palm Beach County, where local officials voted 2-1 to stop a hand recount.

In the presidential campaign that refused to die, local officials said they would ask the Florida Supreme Court to clarify which opinion they should follow – that of the Democratic attorney general or Republican election officials – on whether hand counts of ballots could continue.

A senior Gore strategist said the Palm Beach canvassing board’s decision to delay the recount would be challenged immediately in Circuit Court, along with the Florida secretary of state’s ruling on which the board’s decision was based.

In Washington, Gore’s campaign chairman, William Daley, journeyed to the Capitol to meet privately with Democratic congressional leaders.

The two candidates remained out of public view, Bush in Texas, Gore in Washington, while a phalanx of lawyers and spinmeisters did their bidding.

One week after the nation voted, neither presidential contender had an Electoral College majority, and both needed the 25 electoral votes offered by Florida to fashion one.

Appearing on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” today, former Secretary of State Warren Christopher said talk of a statewide recount was “news to me.” Still, he added, “If the suggestion was made … it’s certainly something we’d want to look at.” Several other senior Gore strategists, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the idea has not been discussed internally.

And Bush campaign spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said, “This is not something under consideration.”

The rhetorical exchanges had grown more barbed on Monday.

“The vice president essentially said we should ignore the law so that he can overturn the results of this election,” Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes asserted.

Representing Gore, Christopher said the chief elections official in Florida – a Bush activist – took an apparent “move in the direction of partisan politics” by sticking with the deadline of 5 p.m. today for certifying the county-by-county results.

In the area around Fort Lauderdale, a check of a few precincts turned up only a few changes, and local officials voted 2-1 against the recount of all of Broward County that Gore had sought. The partial recount, covering 3,892 votes in three precincts, turned up four additional votes for Gore. Democrats planned an appeal. Miami-Dade County were deciding today whether to take the same step.

Gore went briefly before cameras outside the White House on Monday and attempted to strike a statesmanlike tone. “I would not want to win the presidency by a few votes cast in error or misinterpreted or not counted, and I don’t think Governor Bush wants that either,” he said.

The contested election played out in far-flung portions of the state on Monday.

  • County workers sifted through thousands of ballots in Volusia County, where a complete Gore-requested hand recount was in progress.

  • Officials in Miami-Dade County were considering whether to yield to a Gore campaign request and conduct a manual recount in their area.

  • Officials in Palm Beach County said workers would not be able to finish counting more than 400,000 ballots until Sunday, well past Secretary of State Katherine Harris’ deadline. Separately, a hearing was set in state court in Palm Beach County on several citizen lawsuits seeking a new county vote – a position the Gore campaign once floated.

    Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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