Al Gore’s lawyers battled for his political survival in the Florida and U.S. supreme courts Thursday, pleading against delaying fresh vote recounts “even one day” as a half-million ballots sped by rental truck to Tallahassee. GOP lawmakers jockeyed in the state capital to award the presidency to George W. Bush in case the judges wouldn’t.
“When the counting stops, we want to be prepared to lead this nation,” Bush said in Texas between transition meetings with retired Gen. Colin Powell, the star of his Cabinet-in-the-making. Officials said the meeting cemented Powell’s position as secretary of state in a presumptive Bush administration.
In Florida, the GOP-dominated state Legislature drew a step closer to appointing its own slate of presidential electors as a committee urged leaders to call a special session. Democrats called that “a brazen power play,” while they worked elsewhere to keep Gore in the game.
Bush, whose brother is governor of the state, raised no objection to the Legislature’s actions, and his lawyers defended the lawmakers’ right to name a GOP slate. “It’s time to get some finality,” Bush said in an appearance with Powell at his Crawford, Texas, ranch.
Hundreds of miles away in Florida, Lt. Jim Kersey’s squad car headed up the ballot brigade as it passed a handmade sign reading “No chad zone.”
“Oh, my God,” he said. “The whole world is watching.”
And what sights to see: Lawmakers cussed and fumed in a legislative committee room; the two could-be presidents plotted their transitions to power; legal briefs ricocheted between the nation’s courts; and the banana-yellow rental truck, swarmed by police and media vehicles on Ronald Reagan Turnpike, carried contested ballots to Circuit Judge Sanders Sauls’ court.
The recount convoy was captured by TV cameras in helicopters, giving Americans a bird’s-eye view all the way from Palm Beach to Tallahassee.
Sauls could need the ballots if he sides with Gore after a hearing Saturday on the merits of recounts in three counties. The vice president is trying to overturn the official results of Florida’s election, which give Bush a 537-vote lead and the 25 electoral votes needed to claim the White House.
Gore’s advisers believe he needs a court victory and a speedy reduction of Bush’s lead to keep public patience with a 23-day standoff that the vice president said could linger until the Electoral College meets Dec. 18.
His lawyers filed an urgent plea with the Florida Supreme Court asking the seven justices, all with Democratic ties, to start hand-counting ballots while Sauls decides whether the recounts could be added to Gore’s totals. “There is no reason to delay counting ballots even one day,” the brief read.
Summing up Gore’s urgency, both legally and politically, his lawyers told the court, “We’re getting close to the end.”
A new potential for delay emerged late Thursday when Republicans asked Sauls to order an additional 1.2 million ballots brought to Tallahassee from Volusia, Broward and Pinellas counties. The judge has not yet considered the request.
“We believe there were a number of illegal votes for Gore in those counties,” said Bush spokesman Scott McClellan.
The vice president’s allies were just as emphatic about a Florida legislative committee’s recommendation that a special session be called to choose a slate of electors, presumably Bush supporters.
“What the hell is going on here?” Senate Democratic leader Tom Rossin asked in frustration.
Bush’s brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, said lawmakers may need to intercede if the results are still uncertain Dec. 12, the day states must choose their electors. “Clearly, the U.S. Constitution delegates the authority of the selection of the electors to the Legislature,” he said. “That is as clear as can be.”
Not so, said Gore’s lawyers.
They filed papers with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that the Legislature would be on shaky ground if it appointed its own slate. Both sides were submitting briefs in advance of toFday’s Supreme Court oral arguments in Washington.
Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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