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Florida Certifies Bush as Winner; Gore to Challenge Result in Courts

Election: GOP candidate says he's 'preparing to serve' after Harris declares he has 537-vote edge. But Lieberman denounces final tally as 'incomplete and inaccurate.'


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Nineteen days after the election, George W. Bush proclaimed himself the nation's next president and revealed plans Sunday night for his prospective administration after being certified the winner of Florida's 25 crucial electoral votes.

Even as Al Gore prepared to address the nation at 9 a.m. PST today, pressing the case to keep his legal fight going, the Texas governor assumed an air of inevitability by announcing the appointment of running mate Dick Cheney as head of his transition team.

Bush called on the Clinton administration to help in handing over the White House, even as partisan passions boil, saying he looked forward to "a constructive working relationship throughout this transition."

Bush spoke about two hours after Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris declared him the winner over Gore by 537 votes out of about 6 million cast statewide. Her announcement capped a final day of frenzied hand counting in Palm Beach County and a last-minute tally of scattered overseas votes in 10 other counties.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday November 29, 2000 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 3 Metro Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Florida polls--A timeline graphic in Monday's Times incorrectly reported that all Florida polls closed at 7 p.m. EST on Nov. 7. Polls in Florida's western Panhandle region closed an hour later, at 7 p.m. CST.

Within minutes, Gore's running mate, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, was on television denouncing the results as "an incomplete and inaccurate count" and asserting that he and Gore had no choice but to contest the results in court.

"What is at issue here is nothing less than every American's simple, sacred right to vote," a somber Lieberman said in a brief address from Washington.

The Gore team was said to be stunned by Harris' decision to exclude Palm Beach County's hand-counted results in the total she certified Sunday night--a move that cost Gore as many as 200 votes.

Lieberman was immediately followed on the air by James A. Baker III, Bush's Florida point man, who called on Gore to cease his legal fight and concede the election. "At some point there must be closure," he said at a Tallahassee news conference, in language far more blunt than Bush used a short time later.

Still, Baker said Bush would "absolutely" go ahead with his case before the U.S. Supreme Court, challenging Florida's high court decision allowing the hand counting of ballots to go on past the state's normal seven-day cutoff.

"We have no assurance that the other side will stop," he said.

Indeed, even before the certification was completed, attorneys for Gore said they would be in court today to contest the results in at least three Florida counties, a move that threatened to extend the seemingly endless election deep into December.

Still, Bush's 537-vote margin presents Gore with a stiff challenge. He needs to prevail in just about every legal argument to stand any chance of winning the election.

"It's all over but the shouting," said Rep. Dick Armey (R-Texas), the House Republican leader. "It's about time."

'The Needed Electoral Votes to Win'

Speaking from the second floor of the Texas Capitol in Austin, Bush pointedly spoke of the election in the past tense.

"The election was close, but tonight, after a count, a recount and yet another manual recount, Secretary Cheney and I are honored and humbled to have won the state of Florida, which gives us the needed electoral votes to win the election," Bush said. "We will therefore undertake the responsibility of preparing to serve as America's next president and vice president."

Bush used the occasion to reprise some of the hallmarks of his stump speech, talking about tax cuts, volunteerism and a stronger military. But more important perhaps than the substance was the symbolism of the moment as the governor, flanked by two large American flags, asserted his claim on the White House after nearly three weeks of uncertainty.

But leading Democrats continued to back the vice president in his refusal to concede the election. After making Gore's case on the Sunday morning talk shows, House Democratic leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri and his Senate counterpart, South Dakota's Tom Daschle, planned a joint appearance today in Florida on Gore's behalf.

Harris, a Republican who co-chaired Bush's Florida campaign, conducted the formal certification ceremony just after 7:30 p.m. EST, or about 2 1/2 hours after the deadline set last week by the Florida Supreme Court for receiving amended tallies.

In brief remarks, Harris again asserted that the court acted improperly by extending the deadline past the state's normal seven-day cutoff.

With that, she used a blue fountain pen to sign a sheaf of documents certifying Bush as the winner of Florida's 25 electoral votes. Also signing were Clay Roberts, the state's elections director, and Bob Crawford, the state agriculture commissioner, who both supported Bush in his presidential campaign.

Crawford was appointed to fill in for Gov. Jeb Bush, the younger brother of the GOP nominee, to avoid the obvious conflict of interest.

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