Gore makes prime-time appeal

By RON FOURNIER

Associated Press

Al Gore defended his unprecedented reach to the courts Monday, declaring "let the people have their say" by reopening Florida recounts that could reverse the state’s make-or-break presidential election results.

Meanwhile, George W. Bush plunged into the work of building a new government.

A day after Bush summoned TV cameras to press for Gore’s concession, the vice president laid out his case for letting the courts decide the fairness of Florida’s long vote count: "This is America. When votes are cast, we count them. We don’t arbitrarily set them aside because it’s too difficult to count them," he said before a prime-time television audience.

It was perhaps Gore’s last, best chance to explain why the closest presidential election in 124 years didn’t end Sunday night when Florida’s top elections officer, a GOP partisan, certified Bush the winner by 537 votes out of 6 million cast.

Gore protested the results in a Florida state court earlier Monday, becoming the first candidate in U.S. history to contest a presidential election before the judiciary. His attorneys asked for a quick hearing, but may not get one before the end of the week.

And on Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear GOP arguments against recounts.

But now Bush must decide if he wants to keep the court case alive. Certification of the Florida presidential vote gave Bush most of what he asked the high court to give him in a case to be heard this week. And, if he does, the nine Supreme Court justices must decide if his new status as the certified winner leaves them anything useful to decide.

The stakes could hardly be higher.

"If the people do not in the end choose me, so be it," Gore said standing at a presidential-style lectern before a dozen American flags in the vice presidential residence. "The outcome will have been fair, and the people will have spoken."

"If they choose me, so be it. I would then commit to bringing this country together. But, whatever the outcome, let the people have their say, and let us listen," Gore said, hours after Democratic leaders and President Clinton queued up to show their support.

With the agonizingly close election stretching into its fourth week, neither side appeared ready to give way in a fierce struggle that has entangled the judiciary in the business of presidential politics, threatening to spill past the Dec. 12 deadline for selecting state electors.

For his part, Bush moved quickly to take on the work, if not the title, of president-elect. Running mate Dick Cheney criticized the Clinton-Gore administration for refusing Bush access to $5.3 million in government transition funds and a federal office building set aside for the presidential changeover. He announced the Bush team would raise donations to finance its own operation.

Gore believes he would overtake Bush if the final tally would include recounted ballots that were rejected by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris — minus the 174 votes added to Bush’s lead during what Democrats claim was an illegal, eleventh-hour scramble for GOP ballots, including military votes from overseas.

The vice president faces a tough legal fight — persuading a court to overturn a certified election — and an electorate with limited patience.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Palm Beach County said the results of the county’s manual recount of thousands of presidential ballots do not match up with figures from the last machine count. Denise Cote said "unaudited figures" from the manual recount were sent to state elections officials for certification, though that doesn’t mean the numbers were wrong.

Democrats plan to step up their public relations campaign Ttoday, putting forward Florida voters who say they feared their votes for Gore were not counted.

"A vote is not just a piece of paper," Gore said in the television speech. "A vote is a human voice — a statement of human principle, and we must not let those voices be silenced."

His brief appearance was part of a fierce public relations show by both sides — the Gore camp trying to show Democratic solidarity and the Bush team attempting to discredit the vice president’s challenge of the Florida certification.

The vice president was handed a heavy burden when a Florida Supreme Court deadline expired Sunday night, freeing Harris to declare her political ally the winner of Florida’s election and America’s White House.

Gore’s attorneys protested results from Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Nassau counties and asked the judge to "certify that the true and accurate results of the 2000 presidential election in Florida is that the electors of Al Gore and Joe Lieberman received the majority of the votes cast in the election."

The case was assigned to Judge N. Sanders Sauls, a folksy jurist with broad authority under Florida law to "correct any alleged wrong and to provide any relief appropriate." Gore wants a special master to examine contested ballots.

Bush’s brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, quietly signed the paperwork required by federal law to certify Bush the winner of Florida’s 25 electoral votes. That would put him one vote over the 270 required to become the nation’s 43rd president — if courts uphold brother Jeb Bush’s verdict.

High-minded principles aside, Gore said early in the day that the issue was also personal: If state or federal courts reopen handcounts that concluded Sunday, Bush’s 537-vote edge would be at risk. "There are more than enough votes to change the outcome," Gore said, "and that’s an important factor as well."

At the White House, Clinton called for calm and, echoing Gore, said the "the integrity of the voter, every single vote," is at stake.

Yet rumblings were heard from the party’s grassroots.

"I think the vice president should take the high ground and hand it over," Rep. Julia Carson, D-Ind., said in a phone interview.

"Gore might want to take it to court, but I just don’t know," Joe Sulzer, a Democratic state lawmaker from Chillicothe, Ohio, said in a telephone interview. "Without help quick, George Bush will be our next president."

Other Democratic activists such as John Pound in Santa Fe, N.M., and Mary Gail Gwaltney of Las Cruces, N.M., said Gore has a duty to keep fighting after winning the national popular vote and coming so close in Florida.

"What’s the rush to get it wrong?" said Gwaltney, a DNC member.

Bush, for one, is in a hurry to take over. He met with aides in Austin, Texas, to discuss his plans for the Cabinet and White House staff, and speculation mounted in GOP circles about his new team.

Retired Gen. Colin Powell is still Bush’s choice to be secretary of state, but senior advisers to the governor said the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff didn’t want his selection to be injected into Sunday’s political tumult. Bush decided before the election to name Condoleezza Rice as his national security adviser and has not changed his mind, senior advisers said.

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

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