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DECISION 2000 / AMERICA WAITS

In an Iowa County, Bush-Gore Race More Than This Close . . . It's a Tie

Election: It is for now the only place in the U.S. that can claim distinction. Here, emotions run from desire to see issue resolved to slightly amused infatuation.

November 13, 2000|SCOTT MARTELLE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TIPTON, Iowa — Ernest Kunde sat outside his garage in the cold wind, rotting husks of black walnuts at his feet, and mulled the latest election news from sunny Florida.

A hand recount of ballots. A Republican lawsuit to stop the hand recount. Yet another day tacked onto a campaign season that began here with the Iowa straw poll 15 months ago and that keeps dieseling on like a badly tuned engine.

Kunde, 79, shook his head.

"I don't know how you can get into such a mess," he said, swaddled under layers of clothes against the cold as he rubbed inky-black skins from the hard walnuts. "I got a bellyful of it off of the TV before this election came off. Now I got heartburn or something from it."

For all the confusion and uncertainty about the presidential election's outcome nationwide and in Florida, voters here in Cedar County have gone one step further. When the polls closed election day, the tally was Al Gore 4,025, George W. Bush 4,025. A tie.

While those totals will likely change once absentee ballots are counted this week, for the moment Cedar County appears to be the only place in the country to have had, in essence, a hung jury.

It is yet another anomaly in a political season of anomalies. Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader went, at least in the eyes of some liberals, from revered citizen activist to political pariah. And now there's the chance that the man who came in second in the popular vote will win the White House. After, of course, a court battle.

"I hope they get it settled," said Kunde, an independent who voted for Gore. "I really don't care who wins. It's like a soap opera."

There's a lot more at stake in Florida than in Cedar County, a place of scattered wood frame villages and rolling farmland that is bisected, poignantly enough, by the Herbert Hoover Highway.

Whoever prevails in the Sunshine State most likely walks away with 25 electoral votes and the presidency. Here, the tie vote simply added to a tight Iowa race that gave Gore, by dint of about 5,000 votes, the state's seven electoral votes. However, the Bush campaign is considering seeking an Iowa recount.

Passions here are cooler than in the tropical South. There are no street demonstrations by supporters for the apparent loser demanding a new election. There are no opposition loyalists waving signs and urging the other side to shut up and go home. And Cedar County's tie vote is greeted with shrugs.

Here in the county seat of Tipton, where cold morning air leaves hoarfrost on the grass and winter seems just hours away, the election has become dark entertainment. It is the fire down the street, the drama that draws you in while you whisper secret thanks that this particular fate had befallen someone else.

But bubbling just below the desire to have it all over with is a sense of slightly amused infatuation.

"It's great," said Hugh Stumbo, 69, a retired teacher and current manager of a self-service laundry near the edge of downtown Tipton. "Most people don't appreciate it. It's great entertainment."

Stumbo said he couldn't fathom people questioning why Gore sought the Florida recount, and why Bush sued to stop it. Similarly, he has no qualms about the Bush campaign considering seeking recounts in Iowa and Wisconsin to potentially offset gains by Gore should the vice president take Florida.

"If either side decides to pursue that, so what?" Stumbo said as he folded a canvas dropcloth he had just pulled from a dryer. "That's what we're here for. And you never quite know what you're heading into [by seeking a recount]. That's part of the entertainment."

A few blocks away outside the Tipton Locker, a custom butcher shop, deer hunter Lee Beine, 51, said he hoped the issue would be settled quickly but fairly.

"I'd like to see them get a resolution without a lot of litigation," said Beine, a lawyer and a Gore supporter. "I don't have a problem with the recount. It's just confirming the accuracy. I want it to go whichever way it goes, but I just want it to get there."

Beine, his pants still smeared with blood from the eight-point buck he had dropped off for butchering, said he's had his fill of the campaign.

"I'm sick of it. I was sick of it before the election," Beine said. "We've had more commercials this time. Usually we just get them at primary time and a few before the election. Maybe it's because we were a swing state. But everybody I talked to was ready for it to be over and now it's not over."

Inside, the air thick with the sickly sweet smell of freshly butchered meat, Don Villhauer, 69, was torn over whether a new vote should be held in Palm Beach County, Fla., where voters complained they were confused by the ballot.

"They should be able to do something about that," said Villhauer, a retired state Department of Transportation worker. "I really don't know. It's wrong, but I don't know how you're going to make it right."

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