For Dems, Hardball Equals High Risk

KELLY COBIELLA TEXAS EAGLE PASS ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION MEXICO MEXICAN JAIL PROSECUTE DRUGS
CBS
Vice President Al Gore’s Monday night address to the American people may replace his nomination acceptance speech of three months ago as the most important of his 25-year career in politics.

From a political standpoint, it is certainly the most perilous - not only for the vice president, but potentially for the Democrats who have rallied to his side.

"If the people do not in the end choose me, so be it," Gore said standing at a presidential-style lectern before a dozen American flags in the vice presidential residence. "The outcome will have been fair, and the people will have spoken."

The high-minded speech capped an all-day full court press by high-profile Democrats who’ve parachuted into Florida to make the case that an exhaustive count of every vote cast is worth the wait, even if it means deviating from the traditional transition schedule.

In Washington, D.C., Florida and Texas, Republicans are sending the message that they’ve won (more than once) and they’re moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue - if not into the federal office space set aside for the winner’s transition operation, to which they’ve been refused entry by the General Services Administration.

While Republicans measure for curtains, Democrats have to persuade the American people that it’s important to count every vote cast for president in Florida, even if that means some short-term uncertainty.

David Boies, Gore’s lead lawyer in Florida, threw down the gauntlet Sunday night, when he said of ten thousand uncounted “questionable” ballots in Miami-Dade County, "Until those votes are counted, this election cannot be over."

(The Gore campaign sued Monday to get at least that subset of Miami-Dade’s more than 600,000 ballots recounted. The “questionable” ballots did not register a choice for president when counted by machine.)

For the last two days of the recount, Republicans provided the spectacle of GOP big shots like Bob Dole and New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman squinting at ballots over the shoulders of local elections officials, doing democracy’s dirty work for the good of the team.

Monday, Democrats responded with a show of force, unity and resolve of their own, with congressional leaders Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., doing a little (forgive us) “fuzzy math” for the cameras.

The goofiest contrived news event since the Republicans’ phony demonstration inside the Miami-Dade court house last week, Daschle and Gephardt reported to Al Gore and Joe Lieberman on a conference call from Tallahassee, while reporters “listened in.”

Daschle to Gore: "We were just given a new tally this morning that if we counted all of the votes … we'd actually be ahead by maybe nine votes."

Mostly Daschle and Gephardt were there to suggest that careful post-Inaugural examinations of the Forida ballots by political scientists and others who may access them through open-government laws may prove that Gore won the election.

"Wouldn’t it be a terrible thing for the country to find out" - after the fact - "you got the most votes?" Gephardt asked Gore, rhetorically.

"How tragic it would be to know that in January or February that you actually won by several hundred votes and we just didn't have an accurate count until then," Daschle mused.

As political theatre, the peek-a-boo conference call was lacking, but in Washington, the curtain rose on The Bush Transition Show, with Dick Cheney springing from his hospital bed to declare the shadow government open for business.

From the wings on Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., who called on Gore to concede Sunday night, said he will try to kickstart Senate committee hearings on Bush’s cabinet nominees January 4, weeks before Inauguration Day, so that Bush’s cabinet can be confirmed right after he’s sworn in.

To a man, Gore supporters focused Monday on the Miami-Dade ballots.

Republicans "know [Bush] will lose if those votes are counted!" said a hyper Congressman Ed Markey in Miami.

In an interview with CBSNews.com, leading House Democrat Rep. Bob Menendez of New Jersey said, "I don’t know how the next President of the United States raises his hand and takes the oath, and has the moral authority to lead, when votes that may have changed the outcome have not been counted."

Menendez said if the Miami ballots aren’t counted, the next president will not have the moral authority to lecture other countries whose election practices are undemocratic.

Menendez and Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island - both in Florida to assist Gore - said Bush’s suit in the United States Supreme Court has bought Democrats some time with the public.

The high court’s involvement, Reed said, creates "not just the opportunity, but in a sense the obligation, to wait another week."

Reed predicted "people will be patient - not infinitely patient - but they will let these local legal actions play out." To that end, Reed said that Gore’s Monday night address must explain that the process is not "out of control" and the contest is "not an interminable effort that will go on forever," but only for a couple weeks, in the name of the principle that every vote counts.

"George W. Bush already has got us another week by his actions," said Menendez. "He is fighting for a principle to stop votes from being counted. We are fighting for the principle to have every vote counted. When the public understands that, they will stay with us."

It's true that Democrats have a little time, but Bush has something far more valuable: the inside track on 271 electoral votes. If the Democrats press on too long, they risk losing their poliical cover and a whole lot more.