Gore's hopes in a perilous state

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 November, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 November, 2000, 12:00am

The presidential hopes of Democrat Al Gore appear in their most perilous state yet since the election nearly three weeks ago.

Vice-President Gore needs two strokes of fortune to revive his chances of overturning the slender lead held by Republican rival George W. Bush since America went to the polls on November 7.

First, Mr Gore needs a swift refusal from the US Supreme Court to consider Mr Bush's demand to bar results from Florida re-counts. Second, he needs to clean up in the counting of an estimated 17,000 disputed 'dimpled' ballots in the Florida counties of Broward and Palm Beach. But, without the Supreme Court action, the second option becomes merely academic.

Mr Gore's problems worsened on Thursday's Thanksgiving Day holiday, when the Florida Supreme Court voted down his demand that vote-counters in Miami-Dade county be forced to keep working. The county stopped operations after its bipartisan canvassing board decided there was no hope of meeting a deadline of Monday to complete all re-counts. The Democratic-stronghold Miami-Dade, along with Broward and Palm Beach, was considered crucial to Mr Gore's chances of winning the all-important Florida race.

The three counties initially offered the hope of re-counts across 1.7 million of the six million ballots cast in Florida. Now, with just the disputed ballots to go, Mr Gore remains 930 votes short. Unofficially, the figure was down to 720 when Broward counters went home for Thanksgiving.

Despite its predicament, the Gore camp seemed determined to strike a defiant tone, insisting that the Vice-President would not be conceding even if Florida's chief election official - Secretary of State and loyal Bush Republican Katherine Harris - certified Mr Bush the winner late tomorrow. More legal action was planned, both to defend the Supreme Court constitutional challenge fully and push for further counts in Miami-Dade.

'I believe that if we have a full and fair accurate count in Broward and Palm Beach counties, those two counties will be enough to put us over the top,' Gore adviser Ron Klain said. 'But to know who is 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.'

Gore lawyer David Boies said yesterday that the Miami-Dade County decision not to count votes by hand would be challenged next week, quoting the Florida Supreme Court as saying: 'If there is a dispute at the local canvassing board, that dispute should be resolved as an election contest after the certification.' He added: 'We will follow the procedures they have laid out.'

The Gore camp has always insisted it can be the only rightful winner in Florida, whose 25 Electoral College votes are needed by both candidates to declare final victory and take power.

Mr Gore's lawyers are demanding the federal Supreme Court - America's highest court - respect state rights by ignoring Mr Bush's 'intemperate and bipartisan' appeal. A Democrat briefing paper filed in the court on Thursday claimed Mr Bush's efforts 'represent a bald attempt to federalise a state law dispute over whether a manual re-count is authorised and appropriate'.

'Intervention by this court in this ongoing process would work a significant intrusion into a matter - this selection of electors - that is both fundamental to state sovereignty and constitutionally reserved to the states,' it added.

Bush lawyers filed final papers with the court yesterday.