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DECISION 2000 / AMERICA WAITS

Gore Camp Vows to Keep Fighting

Election: The Democrat will probably not concede Sunday if Florida certifies Bush as the winner, a lawyer says. The state high court refuses to restart Miami-Dade's recount; the campaign plans a challenge.

November 24, 2000|BOB DROGIN and JEFFREY GETTLEMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — In a move that sparked fresh uncertainty and concern, Vice President Al Gore's beleaguered campaign said Thursday that he may not concede the tumultuous postelection race for the White House even if he is losing to George W. Bush on Sunday when Florida is due to certify its votes.

The announcement came hours after Florida's Supreme Court appeared to further dim Gore's chances of overtaking Bush by rejecting an urgent Democratic appeal to force the Miami-Dade canvassing board to resume recounting thousands of disputed ballots.

Ron Klain, a senior legal advisor to the Gore camp, told reporters that the Democratic nominee will make another legal challenge by Monday to contest the abrupt decision by canvassing officials in Miami-Dade County to halt its recount.

Saying Gore had authorized his comments, Klain said Gore will not give up if Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris certifies a final result this Sunday that awards Florida's pivotal 25 electoral votes to Bush. A campaign spokeswoman later confirmed Klain's account.

"It seems clear there will be legal action by both sides at that point," Klain said. "Hopefully the courts can wrap it up very, very quickly. But to know who's the president, the votes have to be counted and counted the right way. That didn't happen in Dade County, and we're going to make sure it happens."

The response from the Bush camp was terse. "Today is Thanksgiving and we will not comment," said Ari Fleischer, a Bush spokesman.

But privately, one Bush aide said, "This is extraordinary. It's not clear that even Al Gore's supporters on [Capitol] Hill will follow him if he takes this step."

Other Republicans suggested Gore risks a public backlash if he is seen as selfishly prolonging the postelection muddle.

"It seems to me this is strike 2 1/2," said Ken Khachigian, a veteran GOP strategist and former advisor to President Reagan. "I'm trying to give the guy some slack, but at some point he has to realize how bad this is starting to look."

On a day when most Americans gathered to celebrate Thanksgiving, operatives for the two campaigns barely slowed their bitter legal and political wrangling as both sides bickered anew in court papers and on the airwaves.

In another legal chess move, Gore's lawyers asked the U.S. Supreme Court to disregard a lawsuit filed Wednesday by Bush. The Republican nominee asked the justices to overturn a Florida Supreme Court decision earlier this week that allowed county hand counts to continue until Sunday. The U.S. Supreme Court has not said if it will accept the Bush suit for review.

In papers filed Thursday night, Gore's lawyers called Bush's request a "bald attempt to federalize a state court dispute" and interfere in the Florida balloting. Bush's court brief contained false and "partisan accusations regarding the manner in which the Florida recount is proceeding," Gore's lawyers claimed.

"It is difficult to imagine how this court could intervene in the still-ongoing state proceedings so rapidly and clearly as not to deflect and derail the election process in untoward and unprecedented directions," they added.

Despite the ever-growing thicket of court challenges, and the ever-changing recount tallies, Gore has yet to overtake Bush's narrow but steady lead in the 16 days since the election. With the results from the hand counts in Broward and Palm Beach counties, Gore now trails Bush by 719 votes out of 6 million cast.

But Gore's aides insisted he still may gain enough votes from the ongoing recount of disputed ballots in those two counties--even without help from Miami-Dade--to surge ahead of Bush before a court-imposed deadline of 5 p.m. EST Sunday.

President Clinton urged Americans to be patient as the extra-innings election plays out. "There is a process underway," he told reporters in Thurmont, Md. "The courts will do what they're going to do, and that's the way it ought to be."

Some Republicans dismissed Klain's comments as mere bluster. "I have no doubt there are people in Al Gore's camp who are ready to fight this until 2004," said GOP strategist Jim Pinkerton. "I'm sure there are also people who believe he should step aside and be gracious, although I'm not sure there's anyone who will say that to Al Gore's face."

But William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard magazine, suggested Democrats and Republicans alike are imbued with a deep sense that truth is on their side.

"I think both camps believe their guy deserves to win, therefore there's a real desire to fight on and make sure no injustice is done," Kristol said.

Gore's lawyers went to the state Supreme Court in Tallahassee early in the day to seek an emergency order that would force the Miami-Dade County canvassing board to resume manual counting of at least 10,750 disputed ballots.

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