The onset of winter hung heavily this week over Al Gore's vice-presidential mansion in Washington. As Mr Gore withdrew inside into the loyal embrace of his family and running mate Joe Lieberman to find the strength to continue, many Democrats appeared ready to accept a Republican White House. Up on Capitol Hill, loyalists muttered privately of court rulings earlier last week as a 'stake through the heart', while Mr Gore's Florida envoys, Warren Christopher and Bill Daley, retreated from prominence as they plotted surrender in back rooms. There was suddenly little succour in the press, too, as supporters in the media started describing the Vice-President as 'a lost soul', some comparing his fight for re-counts to a doomed inmate on death row. 'The more you insist you're a winner who somehow found a million different weird ways not to win, the more you seem like a loser,' sneered liberal commentator Maureen Dowd in the New York Times. She described him visiting a prominent local coffee shop, virtually ignored by everybody but his own Secret Service agents. Even his own boss, President Bill Clinton, managed to add to the pall of political death hanging around Mr Gore as he claimed he would have won the election had he been allowed to stand for a third term. Yet, by sunset on Friday, it could have been spring already outside the Gore mansion as the Florida Supreme Court threw him a lifeline. With a tie-breaking 4-3 decision, the court gave credence to his unshakable mantra that the election would not be over until all the votes - even those in dispute - were counted. Outside his palatial residence, passing cars honked in celebration, drowning out the scores of Republican protesters who for weeks had been demanding he vacate 'Dick Cheney's house', in reference to the Republican vice-presidential candidate. Suddenly, Mr Daley was back before the cameras for the first time in days: 'This decision is not just a victory for Al Gore and the millions of his supporters, it is a victory for fairness and accountability and our democracy itself.' Certainly for Mr Gore, it represents a triumph for sheer strength of self-belief and purpose. His detractors, even those within the Democratic Party, have in the past described him as a political blancmange but this time he has stood firm while virtually every-one else has weakened. From the earliest hours of the election more than a month ago, Mr Gore has believed he won Florida, just as he won the popular vote nationwide, and his famous competitive streak could not let him forget it easily. His wife, Tipper, and combative eldest daughter, Karenna, were among those urging him to fight until the last. That will was emphasised on the lawn of the White House last week as Mr Gore gave a rare press conference. His lawyers, his spokesmen and even Mr Lieberman had suggested that, win or lose, Friday's decision might end matters. Not Mr Gore. Repeatedly asked about his apparently worsening odds, he claimed he was defiantly optimistic as he stood by earlier claims that he had a 50-50 chance of his win being proven. There were quiet sniggers and the press pack rounded for the kill. 'What do you make of the fact, Sir, that the American people don't seem to be outraged that not all the ballots are being counted,' asked one reporter. 'Well, actually, you know, I've spent a lot of time debunking the importance of public opinion polls,' Mr Gore said. He may be prepared to buck public opinion to contest Mr Bush's declaration of victory, but he has a steady eye on the most important poll of all - which president the people of Florida voted for on November 7.