Clinging To Their Turf

Looking ahead to the Florida Supreme Court hearing on hand recounts of ballots in the Sunshine State's presidential race, Democrats and Republicans stuck to their partisan turf on CBS News' Face The Nation on Sunday.

"We don't want to continue this forever," said Al Gore's Democratic running mate Joe Lieberman of the Florida recount saga. "We don't want to continue it for a lot longer, but we want everybody's vote to be counted ... because we want the next president, whoever he is, to take office with a sense of legitimacy about him without millions of the American people who supported the other candidate saying, 'We were robbed.'"

The Connecticut senator was asked point-blank whether he thought George W. Bush's campaign and the Republicans were out to rob the election for themselves.

"I wouldn't say they were trying to steal the election, but it seems to me very clearly that they are doing everything they can to stop the recounting of votes, because they're slightly ahead and they fear after the recounting they won't be," he said.

Lieberman added anyone who believes there's anything improper with the hand recounts in a handful of largely Democratic counties - or the disqualification of any overseas absentee ballots - needs to offer proof, now.

"If you look at these pictures on TV, which I have, you have two election officials - a Republican, a Democrat - sitting right at the table looking at the ballots. It is hard to have fraud there," he said. "If they have evidence, they ought to get it to the election officials quickly. Obviously, I would support the fullest investigation of those charges."

Also on Face The Nation, former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh - a Republican who served in the cabinet of Bush's father - took issue with some of the complaints against Florida's paper ballots - and whether any of those concerns should somehow be factored into the state's presidential tally.

"I've been an election monitor throughout this country and several countries around the world - and there is no place where I'm familiar with where casting two ballots for a candidate for the same office or saying, 'Gee, I'm not sure I voted for the right person,' is grounds for throwing over the election."

Two ex-Senators - widely regarded as "statesmen" in Beltway parlance - had their say about the Florida deadlock as well.

Former Sen. Sam Nunn - Democrat of Georgia - told Face The Nation that sooner or later, Gore and Bush themselves will have to pull back their lawyers, so the country can move forward.

"Everyone is trying to litigate their way out of this. The final analysis, the candidates have to step up to the plate, I think, and basically be the clients that decide the case rather than the lawyers."

Nunn added that Gore has few real options left to contest the Sunshine State's election in any protracted way if the Florida Suprme Court rejects the inclusion of hand recounts in the presidential tally after its Monday hearing.

"I don't think mistakes on ballots are an abuse." he said. "People make mistakes in every election and officials make mistakes in every election and we have a lot of volunteers out there that work in every election in good faith, whatever their political preference. So I think we ought to accept the verdict of Florida within the Constitution of the United States."

Appearing with Nunn on the program, former Sen. Howard Baker - Republican of Tennessee - warned that while the country is currently patient about the outcome of the closest race for the White House in four decades, that feeling could change not too far down the road.

"If this thing goes on very much longer - I don't know how long - but if it goes on very much longer, the country is going to get really upset about it, in my view - and it will cast serious doubt on the ability of either candidate to serve successfully as president."