Legal teams for both George W. Bush and Al Gore will be gearing up today for what could be Gore’s last, legal push for the presidency.
On Thursday morning, the Florida Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on whether to consider Gore’s challenge to the state’s presidential election results. By noon today, lawyers for Gore and Bush are to file briefs in preparation for the high court hearing.
Before the justices is a Gore appeal to a ruling Monday by Leon County Circuit Court Judge N. Sanders Sauls. The judge rejected Gore’s contest case and refused to order a hand count of disputed ballots from two heavily Democratic counties.
What the vice president wants is to overtake Bush’s 537-vote lead in Florida and cost the GOP nominee the state’s crucial electoral votes and the White House.
While Gore focused on his legal fight and spoke to reporters, Bush received his first national security briefing from the CIA on Tuesday and expressed confidence in a televised interview that he would prevail.
Their respective running mates made the rounds on Capitol Hill. Joseph Lieberman sought the support of Democratic senators while Dick Cheney met with House Republicans about the presidential transition.
“The Florida Supreme Court is going to rule in two or three days, and if he’s unsuccessful on that, then I think that is the end of it,” said Sen. Evan Bayh, of Indiana, one of several Democrats to express those sentiments in Washington.
But that was precisely what Gore avoided saying he would do.
Asked directly whether he would concede if he loses his appeal, he replied, “when the issues that are now being considered in the Florida Supreme Court are decided, that’ll be an important point.”
Later, he noted the presence of other lawsuits in the courts — cases in which he is not a formal party — in which judges are being asked to throw out thousands of absentee ballots. The cases in Seminole and Martin counties are politically tricky for Gore, since his entire challenge to Bush’s certified victory has been based on a claim that every vote should be counted, particularly questionable ballots that were rejected by counting machines in other regions of the state.
“I don’t know what will happen there,” the vice president told reporters of the absentee ballot lawsuits. “I think that those two cases are likely to travel the same route as the case that went into Judge Sauls’ court and will end up in the Florida Supreme Court.”
Speaking in his first interview since Nov. 7, Bush took on a conciliatory tone and told CBS’ 60 Minutes II he hoped he and Gore would “work to heal whatever wounds may exist” once a winner is declared.
Bush said he does not view Gore as a sore loser. “We both put our heart and soul into the campaign,” he said in the interview. “... I think he’s doing what he thinks is right.”
With Florida set to certify its 25 presidential electors next Tuesday, Gore has little time to turn the tide in his favor. In a news conference at the White House Tuesday, Gore expressed hope that he would. “The effort I have under way is simply to make sure that all the votes are counted,” Gore said at a White House news conference. “I don’t feel anything other than optimistic.”
Double Blows for Gore
The week began with a double whammy for Gore on Monday when he lost in the circuit court ruling and did not gain any ground when the U.S. Supreme Court failed to rule decisively earlier that day.