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DECISION 2000 / AMERICA WAITS

Gore Plans Talk Today on Why He'll Fight

Strategy: Aggressive GOP opposition has only increased the vice president's resolve, aides say. He plans to make his case on Florida vote count.

November 27, 2000|JAMES GERSTENZANG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Vice President Al Gore, seeking to rally supporters and keep congressional Democrats in line, plans to make his case today for a continued fight for the presidency.

Building on the aggressive legal strategy outlined Sunday night by his running mate, Joseph I. Lieberman, Gore intends to argue that he is looking for nothing more than a fair and accurate vote count in Florida, his aides said.

The vice president also plans to emphasize that the 50 million people who voted for him did so based on the policies and principles he espoused. And, aides said, he will argue that the nation's legal system must be respected--and its Constitution honored--by using them to resolve the contested election.

With certification of the Florida results already a foregone conclusion Sunday afternoon, Gore and his advisors began working on a speech that he is scheduled to give in Washington at 9 a.m. PST.

Gore Aides Stunned by Harris' Stance

Still, one senior member of the campaign team said they were stunned by the aggressive tenor of Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris--and by her refusal to include any of Palm Beach County's hand-counted votes in the tally that she certified Sunday evening.

"In thousands of hours of work by hundreds of citizens of Florida, Republicans and Democrats and independents alike are being ignored," Lieberman said, delivering the campaign's response to Harris' decision. "It is in our nation's interest that the winner in Florida is truly the person who got the most votes.

"The integrity of our self-government is too important to cast into doubt because votes that have been counted--or others that have not yet been counted and clearly should be--have unjustifiably been cast aside. That is why we seek the most complete and accurate count possible."

The Gore campaign's goal is to make sure that the public support he received in the election does not begin to crumble, thus weakening the resolve of senior Democratic lawmakers. Indeed, an aide to Lieberman was quick to point out that House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) are planning to visit Florida today to rally support for Gore.

Gore Will Outline Reasons for Challenge

For his part, the vice president plans to remind supporters that it was his stands on such issues as Medicare, Social Security, labor rights, the environment, abortion rights and gun control that drew them to his side during the fall campaign. It was a theme Gore's surrogates began stressing Sunday.

"Those are his principles," said an aide familiar with the remarks Gore plans to deliver. "People fought for them by going to the voting booths. It's important to stand up for those whose votes didn't get counted in Florida."

At its heart, the speech Gore is preparing to deliver today is intended to give the country an explanation for the course he plans to follow--and the reasons he will continue to challenge the certified results.

In tenor and detail, it is likely to reflect his mood: one of unyielding readiness to continue to fight. It is one that, according to an aide who spent most of the day at the vice president's house, has consumed him "every moment, every hour" since the election.

On Sunday morning, the vice president, his wife, Tipper, and daughter Kristin set out for church across the Potomac River in Arlington, Va. The route through a back gate allowed them to avoid the clutch of protesters who had gathered at the main entrance to the Naval Observatory, site of the vice president's official residence.

At Mount Vernon Baptist Church, the Rev. Martha E. Phillips made only passing reference to the vice president's presence. Amid prayers for a member of the congregation "suffering from a cold" and for another who was about to move to another community, she said, "Dear Lord, we pray for the Gore family."

But the sermon offered at least a degree of context for the day, albeit one built around spirituality and not politics: It was on the "famine of faith" in modern life.

Within an hour or so after his return to the old Victorian mansion overlooking the nation's capital, Gore had shed his dark business suit and donned jeans. On a telephone at his dining room table--or on another in his library--Gore spoke with lawyers and others supporting his cause in Florida. He was joined by Lieberman; Bill Daley, his campaign manager; Carter Eskew, one of his senior campaign advisors; and Mark D. Fabiani, his deputy campaign manager.

At midday, the group joined the vice president and his family for lunch in the sun-filled dining room.

Using words identical to those chosen by campaign aides to describe Gore on virtually every day since the election, Fabiani said: "He is resolute; he's determined. Very focused."

And as Republican lawmakers--including House Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas--have become more critical and public protests against his campaign have expanded, Gore reportedly has grown only more determined.

Participants in those protests have ranged from the people who for days have stood across Massachusetts Avenue from Gore's Washington home, to the angry crowd that demonstrated just beyond the meeting room of vote counters in Miami-Dade County on Wednesday before the tally was halted there.

"The way the Republicans have overstepped the bounds--by renting mobs to protest in Florida--[has] backfired and caused Democrats to become even more resolute than they were before," Fabiani said.

"The nasty dogs chained up in the back . . . came out this week, snarling," he said.

*

Times staff writer Ronald Brownstein in Florida contributed to this story.

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