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On All Sides, a Dizzying Pace to the Spin

Routine: Party operatives converge to buttonhole reporters and make sure their camp's view is the one that gets across.


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Picture the pizza crusts, the greasy-faced reporters banging away at laptops, the politicians in shirts as crisp as paper, their noses wrinkling as they step inside.

Catch a whiff of what they smell: the old food, the heavy breath, the sweat of too many deadlines almost missed.

And hear the spin. All of it. Every day. Fifteen hours straight. As canned as tuna and as repetitive as, well, counting hundreds of thousands of paper ballots by hand.

No, ladies and gentlemen, there are no tickets to the spin room. All you need is a press pass or a political party badge or a serious bent for masochism to get in.

"This is downtown spin central," said Mitch Ceasar, chairman of the Broward County Democratic Party, as he breezed into the spin room. "I can't seem to stay out."

Neither can anyone else.

This last week, in a cramped, windowless box of a room next to where the Broward County canvassing board reviews ballots, dozens of party functionaries of limitless energy have massed to buttonhole reporters and make sure their party's side is the one that gets across. The room, equipped with phone lines and outlets, has been set aside for reporters covering the Florida ballot recount. But it's never been a Fourth Estate refuge.

The thing is, it's somewhat mystifying how people can spin something as dry and mind-numbingly methodical as counting 6-inch stacks of ballots. Spin rooms usually spring up after debates or big speeches that are ripe for partisan interpretation and analysis. Words, not numbers, usually get spun.

But nearly every hour of every day since Broward County began its enormous hand review of 588,000 ballots, the door to the spin room has flung open with several party operatives from each side marching in. Often talking at the same time, they issue their statements concerning anything and everything connected to the presidential election saga: Frivolous lawsuits. The state of the nation's anxiety. Swallowed chads.

Why do they do this? "That's law," said Republican lawyer Shari McCartney, pointing to the adjoining canvassing board room. "But this is politics. And we all know the reality where it's really at."

The first thing you'll notice in the spin room is that everything is generic. The simulated-wood tables. The bald gray walls. Even the case of body-temperature cola that's been sitting on one of the tables for four days straight--untouched--is some brand called "A+."

But let's not sound ungrateful. Or dwell on the fact that the 20-by-40-foot room could use a few gallons of good, strong bleach to wash it out.

After the canvassing board reached a controversial decision Sunday to broaden the standards of what kind of unpunched ballots could be considered votes, the spin room filled with the nervous energy of the foyer to a high school prom.

First came Ed Pozzuoli, chairman of the Broward County Republican Party.

"Guys, this is important," Pozzuoli shouted, waving a copy of a lawsuit over his head like it was a winning raffle ticket. "You have to see this. There's no legal basis for what they're doing."

A group of reporters flocked. TV camera lights clicked on. Then McCartney started working the room, reporter to reporter, making eye contact, saying: "I'm fired up, I'm really fired up."

The ink flowed.

Across the room, a Florida Democrat, Rep. Peter Deutsch, strapped on wires to do a CNN interview. Another light blinked on.

"All we want is a fair and accurate vote, a fair and accurate vote, a fair and . . . " his voice trailing off like a mantra.

Finally, one reporter lost it.

"Oh, my god, the spin in here!" she said and burst out the door. It was a momentary amnesty of fresh air. Five minutes later, she was back.

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