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Bay Buchanan Sees Something Peculiar in Palm Beach Voting

Election: She says it's 'ridiculous' to assert that her brother has strong support in the Florida county. Reform candidate sides with Democrats on the issue.

November 10, 2000|MEGAN GARVEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bay Buchanan, who managed her brother Pat's Reform Party presidential campaign, Thursday called it "ridiculous" for George W. Bush's campaign aides to label Palm Beach County "a Buchanan stronghold."

The candidate himself also sided with the Democratic Party's interpretation of the 3,407 votes that he received in Palm Beach County--suggesting they were most likely cast by voters who were confused by a now-infamous butterfly ballot and punched the hole for Buchanan when they meant to vote for Vice President Al Gore.

"We do not believe they are all ours," said Bay Buchanan. "We think there was clear confusion and we understand the confusion since we've looked at the ballot ourselves."

She said she was startled to hear Bush strategist Karl Rove argue Thursday that Buchanan has strong support in a county where his campaign never bought an ad and never paid a visit.

"That is ridiculous. The vote there basically represents 20% of the votes we got in the entire state and it's not our natural base," she said. "We only got 5% of our state vote there in the 1996 Republican primary."

And she said she believed her brother did the right thing by telling CNN and NBC on Thursday that he believed a mistake had been made.

He's Said to Have Made 'Honest Assessment'

"This is not the time to spin. It is too important," she said. "He knows they aren't his for several reasons. He's heard people who testified they voted mistakenly, he's looked at the ballot himself and so he's made an honest assessment. He doesn't know how many are not his but it looks like a lot of them belong to Gore."

Palm Beach County is in the sights of the nation this week as its disputed votes are the focus of two campaigns trying to resolve an election that remains undetermined. Florida's vote has not been certified and a recount underway Thursday evening indicated Gore trailed Bush by a couple hundred votes.

The Bush campaign came out swinging Thursday on the issue of the Buchanan votes, armed with numbers about independent-minded voters in Palm Beach County, which they said proved the vote for Buchanan may have been intentional. Rove, Bush's chief strategist, argued there was no discrepancy between their characterization of Palm Beach County as a Buchanan stronghold and the county's tradition as a strongly Democratic enclave.

(In the county's initial tally Tuesday, Gore led Bush by 26% of the vote).

Bush aides said Palm Beach County registration in the Reform Party, Independent Party and American Reform Party increased by 110% from 1996 to 2000. Rove, who lumped those organizations together as "Reform Party Labels," said such voters "are more likely to vote for their nominee than people who are not registered to the Reform Party."

But even Reform Party boosters in Florida said Rove's numbers are "misleading." And they dispute his assertion that "new converts to the Reform Party in that part of the state are probably more likely to be enthusiastic [about] voting for their candidate."

In fact, said David Goldman, who until October was the state Reform Party's vice chair, Florida, and the membership in Palm Beach County in particular, were "hotbeds" of anti-Buchanan sentiment. It was such sentiment that led to the national party's implosion at their convention in Long Beach in August, when the party split into two warring factions, one supporting and the other backing a rival.

"That Buchanan got that many votes in Palm Beach County is prima facie evidence of a terrible mistake transpiring," said Goldman. "If Palm Beach County is a Buchanan stronghold, then so is my local synagogue."

Goldman and other longtime Reform members in the state described a party in "disarray" with little organization, much less a groundswell of support for Buchanan in a place even he concedes is not his base.

And they say the registration numbers Rove cited are also misleading because they believe they take into account people who mistakenly have registered for the all-but-defunct Independent Party believing they are declaring themselves as independents.

"Look, as of January 2000, we had fewer than 5,000 Reform Party members statewide and fewer than 1,500 in Palm Beach County, where many of them left after everything that happened with Buchanan," Goldman said.

And in a fractured party where neither side masks outright hatred of each other, both sides agree that the Republicans are wrong about this one.

Bay Buchanan pointed out that even in Tampa and the northern Panhandle, where they spent time and money, her brother got only about 1,000 to 1,200 votes. While the conservative firebrand earned 8,788 votes in the 1996 Republican primary in Palm Beach County, that vote came not long after Buchanan reached what has proved to be the high point of his political career with a victory over Sen. Bob Dole in the New Hampshire primary. And that vote count, Bay Buchanan pointed out, represented about 5% of their vote total in the state and in keeping with turnout in other counties.

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