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DECISION 2000 / AMERICA WAITS

Bush, Gore Camps Dig In as Manual Recount Is to Start

Presidency: With a narrow lead, Republicans pressure the vice president to concede 'for the good of the country.' The Democrat is weighing how aggressively to fight results.

November 11, 2000|MARK Z. BARABAK and BOB DROGIN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Still clinging to a narrow Florida lead, George W. Bush went about planning his prospective administration Friday as his campaign called on Al Gore to concede the presidential race "for the good of the country."

But Gore continued to challenge the Florida vote, and in at least three counties, election workers prepared for the laborious process of recounting tens of thousands of ballots by hand. Some of the recounting was to start today.

Both the Bush and Gore camps seemed dug in for a prolonged stalemate, possibly lasting past Thanksgiving.

Stepping up the Bush campaign's counterattack, the Republican Texas governor has given the go-ahead for a possible suit to block a manual recount of contested ballots, a source told Associated Press late Friday.

Bush's representative in Florida, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, said the campaign was prepared to "vigorously fight" the recount by hand because of the possibility of fraud or other mistakes.

At Bush's request, Palm Beach County officials will perform a mechanical recount today of all ballots while conducting a separate recount by hand for Gore.

For a second consecutive day, aides to the two candidates held dueling news conferences in Tallahassee to press their cases as part of an increasingly aggressive public relations effort.

Baker sternly admonished Gore for continuing to challenge Tuesday's election results.

"The purpose of our national election is to establish a constitutional government, not unending legal wrangling," Baker said. "For the good of the country, and for the sake of our standing in the world, the campaigning should end and the business of an orderly transition should begin."

But an hour later, standing in the same Florida Senate room that Baker spoke from, Bill Daley, chairman of the Gore campaign, insisted it was premature to talk of any concession.

"Calls for a declaration of a victory before all the votes are accurately tabulated are inappropriate," Daley said. "Waiting is unpleasant for all of us, but suggesting that the outcome of a vote is known before all the ballots are properly counted is inappropriate."

In Tallahassee, state election officials announced that their review of a controversial Palm Beach County ballot found it in full compliance with Florida law. The Gore campaign, however, continued to question the design, which already is the subject of lawsuits filed by Gore supporters.

A tally of the recount in all of Florida's 67 counties, conducted by Associated Press, showed Bush clinging to a 327-vote lead, out of more than 5.8 million ballots cast.

State officials said their recount gave Bush a 960-vote lead, but that did not include returns from disputed Palm Beach County, where a partial recount by hand was set to begin today. Also beginning today was a recount of all ballots in Volusia County, which includes Daytona Beach.

Broward County is to began partial hand recounts early next week. And pending before local officials in Miami-Dade County is a request by the Gore camp for a hand recount there too.

Apart from those tabulations, the tally will continue to change as officials count absentee ballots cast by Floridians living abroad. State election officials remained unsure how many there will be--in 1996, about 30,000 overseas ballots were requested but only 2,300 were returned. The deadline for those ballots to be opened is next Friday.

Nationwide, Bush has won 29 states for a total of 246 electoral votes. Oregon, with seven electoral votes, apparently tipped Friday into Gore's column, giving him 19 states plus the District of Columbia for 262 electoral votes.

In New Mexico, which has five electoral votes, Bush was clinging to a mere four-vote lead late Friday, according to the New Mexico secretary of state.

It takes 270 electoral votes to win the White House, leaving both candidates short without Florida's 25 in their column.

Gore continued to lead the national popular vote by about 200,000 out of about 100 million cast.

As a number of court cases and election challenges kept Florida's contest--and the outcome of the election--in legal and political limbo, Gore was cautioned by some within his own Democratic Party about how aggressively to proceed.

"I think that people's patience is going to be fairly limited," said Gov. Jim Hodges (D-S.C.).

Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) suggested that Gore was justified in pursuing the recount and taking the issue of disputed ballots to court. But he opposed a drawn-out appeal.

"In Gore's case, his heart may say to him, 'I won this thing,' " Kerrey said. "But he has to make a very difficult decision as to how far it is reasonable to take it."

Political considerations aside, impartial analysts were struck by the large number of votes that Gore picked up in the statewide recount that began the day after the election.

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