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Gore Storms Media to Defend Recount Efforts


WASHINGTON — Vice President Al Gore said Wednesday that he thinks his chances of moving into the Oval Office are 50-50.

In the midst of an aggressive media campaign, he showed up on television screens from sunup to sundown and in between met with a delegation of senior advisors to talk about a transition to a Gore administration.

In one interview after another, he showed no lack of confidence. But he emphasized that his fight for tallies of what he says are uncounted ballots in Florida ultimately would help unify the nation. Such a "complete count" would remove any doubt about the legitimacy of the 43rd president, whether his name is Gore or George W. Bush, the vice president said.

He and running mate Joseph I. Lieberman went to the White House, where they met with senior advisors to discuss transition matters.

Later, Gore spent about 15 minutes with President Clinton, in what aides called an impromptu visit. Gore and Clinton last saw each other in Jefferson City, Mo., at the funeral of Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan on Oct. 20.

Their offices in the White House West Wing are perhaps 50 paces apart and Gore has always had the privilege of dropping in on Clinton without scheduling an appointment. It was, said a senior White House aide, "a cordial exchange."

In a new analogy, Gore, in the interviews, began equating the difficulty that he argues Florida's voting machines have had counting each ballot with the occasional malfunctions of supermarket scanners: They fail to read every bar code and cashiers must then punch code numbers into the machine to register a purchase, he said.

"They don't . . . give it to you for free," he said in one interview. Lieberman made the same comparison in an appearance Wednesday night on CNN.

This was, perhaps, a subtle reminder of one of the more embarrassing moments, from a public relations position, in the presidency of George Bush, the father of Gore's rival. The elder Bush was portrayed--erroneously, he and his aides said--as being surprised at how a scanner registered grocery prices. The issue was used to portray him as out of touch with the lives of average Americans.

Gore appeared in a taped interview on NBC's "Today" show as the sun rose over Washington. He talked to CNN for prime-time broadcast and then was interviewed at the end of the day by the anchors on the evening newscasts of ABC, CBS and, again, NBC.

The media-blitz strategy is built around concern that the public could tire of the lengthy political drama. And, when it does, senior Democrats might tire of supporting Gore, his aides said. So he is trying to make his case to count disputed ballots as publicly as possible.

"Big mistake," argued one Republican advisor close to the Bush team's Florida operation. Gore is risking overexposing himself, the advisor said.

Among Gore's advisors, the media campaign is seen as a necessary step to hold support in place until he can show some progress in Florida's courts. They recognize that there are only a few days before merely the absence of forward motion could cause serious slippage in their political support.

At the same time, the storm of television appearances may counter the much more public work of the Bush team to structure a transition to a Bush administration--a strategy that may feed the image Republicans are cultivating of Bush as victor in the presidential campaign.

In each appearance, Gore covered much the same territory.

"I believe we're going to win this election," he said on "Today."

Asked the odds of that, he replied: "I think they're still 50-50."

Lifting ever so slightly the veil on his emotions, Gore acknowledged the unique outcome of the race--"incredible" was how he described the unfolding events.

"You prepare yourself to win," he said. "You prepare yourself for the possibility that you won't win. You don't really prepare yourself for the possibility that you flip the coin in the air and it lands on its edge and you get neither outcome."

Repeatedly, he said that he thought the race would be decided by mid-December. Florida must name its electors by Dec. 12 and the electoral college meets on Dec. 18.

The vice president said that the first thing he would do if he does not prevail would be "to help Gov. Bush unify the country behind his leadership and make sure that there was no question about the legitimacy of his win."

"And I would expect him to do the same thing if he lost," Gore added.

The transition meeting between Gore and administration officials took place over lunch in an office reserved for the vice president in the Old Executive Office Building, next door to the White House. It lasted about 90 minutes.

The participants were Bill Daley, his campaign chairman and former Commerce secretary, who would be expected to play a prominent role in a Gore administration; Labor Secretary Alexis M. Herman, who was one of Gore's most public supporters in the Clinton Cabinet and who would also be on most lists for a new administration job; Gore's national security advisor, Leon Fuerth; the head of his transition team, Roy Neel; and Kathleen McGinty, who led the White House Council on Environmental Quality earlier in the Clinton administration and who would be a leading candidate to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

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