By RON FOURNIER
In a dizzying turn of events, Florida’s largest county abruptly stopped recounting votes Wednesday, sending Al Gore’s lawyers scrambling back to court to keep a ballot-by-ballot fight for the White House grinding away. George W. Bush asked the Supreme Court to shut down all the recounts or risk a constitutional crisis.
"I won the vote in Florida," Bush said — a point that could hardly be more in dispute. He accused the Democrats of monkeying with laws to reverse the election’s "legitimate result."
Bush was temporarily reeling from a Florida Supreme Court ruling late Tuesday night that said manual recounts could continue until Sunday in the state that will determine America’s 43rd president. Bush is clinging to a 930-vote lead out of 6 million cast.
Standing in front of a presidential-blue backdrop, the Texas governor accused the state Supreme Court of overreaching, and he had choice words for Democrats, too. "I believe Secretary Cheney and I won the vote in Florida. And I believe some are determined to keep counting in an effort to change the legitimate result," he said.
Republican allies were even more outspoken as they fanned out across Florida.
"If we were not witnessing, in effect, the stealing of a presidential election it would be laughable," said Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, whose district includes part of Miami-Dade County.
Bush’s fortunes shifted with stunning speed. Within two hours of his news conference, a three-member elections board in predominantly Democratic Miami-Dade County voted to scrap its recount. If the decision stands, Gore’s presidential dreams would rest with two other southeast coast counties — Palm Beach and Broward — where his advisers feared there were not enough votes to catch Bush.
"We hope the counts continue," said Gore’s campaign chairman, William Daley.
Gore appealed the Miami-Dade decision, but a state appeals court refused Wednesday night to force a return to recount work. Democrats said they would appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.
Senior advisers said the vice president’s slimming prospects depended upon the two remaining counties broadening their standards for validating votes, no sure thing, or a court forces Miami-Dade to recount — also a long shot.
Also in the day’s swirl of events:
Gore had picked up 129 votes on the recounts, forcing Bush’s lead to 801. Gore would have cut much deeper into Bush’s total if Miami-Dade’s hand counts were added — 157 for Gore before counting was suspended.
The board, one Democrat and two members who don’t list a party affiliation, cited the court’s Sunday deadline for its reversal. "It would be a minor feat and miracle for us to do it" by Sunday, said canvassing board chairman Lawrence King.
The turnabout followed a raucous morning at the vote-counting center. Well-organized Republicans protested the board’s decision Tuesday to turn its attention exclusively to an estimated 10,000 ballots that were not punched through cleanly on Election Day.
In a scene carried on national TV, security officers jostled with protesters outside the counting room. "Cheaters! Let us in!" the demonstrators yelled.
Both sides believed those 10,000 ballots would boost Gore’s totals, and possibly allow him to overtake Bush. Republicans cried foul, saying GOP precincts — and potential Bush gains — would be ignored.
After the vote to stop counting, Florida GOP chairman Al Cardenas said, "Finally, we’re getting some semblance of the rule of law here."
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