By SANDRA SOBIERAJ
WASHINGTON – Al Gore said today he had enough votes to win the presidency “if every vote is counted” and his court challenge to the Florida result is about “the integrity of our democracy.”
“What we’re talking about regards many thousands of votes that have never been counted at all,” Gore said in a telephone conference call from the vice president’s residence. “If we ignore the votes that have been cast, then where does that lead? The integrity of our democracy depends on the consent of the governed.”
Democrat Gore was determined to halt any public acceptance of George W. Bush as the next president, though Florida’s top elections officials certified his Republican rival the winner Sunday night.
After his lawyers filed papers contesting the vote count in three counties in Florida, Gore spoke in a televised conference call with Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, who came to Florida to voice their support.
“This really is about much more than which candidate wins and which candidate loses,” the vice president said. “It’s about the integrity of our system of government.”
Gore planned a televised address this evening to take his case to the public. Gore’s message is that the Florida tally certified in Bush’s favor Sunday night was, in the words of Democratic running mate Joseph Lieberman, “incomplete and inaccurate.”
As Lieberman did in the moments after Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris declared Bush the winner, Gore wanted Americans to see the Democrats’ morning-after lawsuits for a fuller recount as a means of protecting democracy.
“How can we teach our children that every vote counts if we are not willing to make a good-faith effort to count every vote,” Lieberman said Sunday night.
“Because of our belief in the importance of these fundamental American principles, Vice President Gore and I have no choice but to contest these actions.”
Lieberman spoke to reporters at a hotel near the White House. His sober address with a pair of American flags as his backdrop was Part One of Gore’s strategy for undermining Bush’s victory speech, muting images of celebrating Bush supporters, and preparing the nation for a week of intense legal maneuvers that culminate with arguments Friday before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Florida results, which provide 25 votes in the Electoral College and will decide the presidency, has been in dispute since the Nov. 7 balloting.
Harris, a Republican who campaigned for Bush, certified a hair-thin victory for Bush by 537 votes and rejected votes Gore had picked up during a manual recount in Palm Beach County – one of several actions the vice president’s legal team is contesting.
Gore’s lawyers challenged the results from Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Nassau counties in a filing early this afternoon.
Gore strategists in Florida crunched numbers into the night and presented reporters with a mathematical scenario in which Gore arguably won the state by nine votes without further recounting.
In an interview with The New York Times before Bush declared victory, Gore insisted that his contest could play out in the courts before the Dec. 12 deadline for naming members to the Electoral College and waiting would not harm the nation.
He volunteered that he has already decided “very quietly, without any public show” whom he would ask to serve in his Cabinet.
“Most of the transition (from campaign to presidency) that needs to be done at this stage doesn’t require much more than that anyway,” Gore said.
Campaign chairman William Daley told The Associated Press that Gore has kept names to himself and not yet reached out to any prospective appointees.
Gore has had several conversations with transition director Roy Neel but just one formal meeting. He said that took place Friday with Neel, Daley, vice presidential national security adviser Leon Feurth and Labor Secretary Alexis Herman.
One participant in that meeting said Gore was “emphatic” about naming Republicans to his Cabinet. Bush had successfully portrayed himself during the campaign as the better candidate to unite Republicans and Democrats.
Careful to cast his recount battle as a principled, not personal, one, Gore told the Times: “If I am successful – let me rephrase that. If a full and accurate count of the votes results in my election, I will go to extraordinary lengths to build bridges to Republicans and independents and others.”
Not one Democrat has privately urged him to give up, Gore insisted, and he has even been urged on by some Republicans. He declined to identify them.
Still, Gore promised to greet “with quiet respect and complete deference and acceptance” whatever the U.S. Supreme Court rules after hearing arguments on Bush’s claim that the Florida Supreme Court erred in allowing manual recounts.
Gore has tapped Harvard constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe and appellate specialist Teresa Roseborough to appear before the high court, Daley said.
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