Recount Redux

While George W. Bush's 930-vote lead in Florida is still razor thin out of the six million cast, it's safe to say that the hand recounts have not brought the turnaround expected by the campaign of Al Gore.

With manual recounts continuing in three counties - Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade - the Texas governor has nearly tripled his margin over the vice president from a week ago.

Bush is actually gaining votes in predominantly Democratic Palm Beach, a county where the Gore campaign had hoped a recount would boost the vice president. After some 19,000 incorrectly marked Palm Beach ballots were discarded by elections officials, Democrats, citing "irregularities", fought for a manual tally in the county.

After Saturday's counting was complete in Palm Beach, Bush had a net gain of 12 votes with 31 of the 531 precincts tallied.

In Broward County, as the tedious process of manually counting 588,000 ballots went into a fifth day, Gore had gained 88 votes over official tallies sent to the secretary of state on Tuesday, with 270 of 609 precincts hand counted.

Until the Supreme Court stepped in and said it would hear arguments on the validity of ballot recounts, Secretary of State Katherine Harris had planned to certify a winner in Florida on Saturday. That action would have potentially extinguished Gore's hope that, with a hand recount, he could overtake Bush's slim lead, claim Florida's prize in the Electoral College and ascend to the presidency.

Democrat Gore won another round later on Friday when a federal appeals court turned down Bush's request for an immediate end to ballot recounting.

Bush has argued that manual recounts in the three Democratic-leaning counties are selective and unfair and open to human mistakes and "mischief." The GOP candidate wants the counts stopped.

Karen Hughes, spokeswoman for Bush, told reporters in Austin, Texas, that "the manual recount of ballots that have already been machine counted several times is flawed, and is subject to human error."

Lawyers for Bush also say that the Republican Harris acted properly in sticking with a deadline last Tuesday for counties to report final vote tallies - other than overseas ballots - for state certification. The state Supreme Court on Friday essentially froze the outcome by telling Harris she couldn't certify results, for now.

Gore is well aware, said one senior adviser, that he would be hard-pressed to politically sustain his fight over Florida if a tally had been certified in Bush's favor Saturday.

Already on Friday, Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, referred to his fellow Republican in a press release as "President-elect Bush."

"I hope Vice President Gore will now do the right thing for himself and for America by conceding the election," Gramm said.

Not likely, insisted friends and allies who have been in contact with Gore in the week and a half since Election Day. Marla Romash, who worked for Gore in Congresand staffed hundreds of his town meetings in Tennessee, said the vice president is committed to seeing every vote counted as a matter of democratic principle.

"I can still hear the speech he gave at the beginning of each of those town meetings. He said, 'This is my way to make democracy work," Romash said.

Gore's hero worship of Thomas Jefferson, whose election to the White House took 36 re-votes in the House of Representatives, is also instructive, said longtime adviser Greg Simon.

"To Al, this is not a personal political crisis or even a constitutional crisis because he's familiar enough with American history to know this has been done before," said Simon.

Former White House adviser Paul Begala, who helped Gore prepare for his three debates against Bush, called the vice president "the Eagle Scout" of politics. "He will want to follow the process scrupulously to its conclusion," he said.

From New York, the Rev. Jesse Jackson urged Gore on, saying: "We cannot certify a mystery."

Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, whose leadership job is to count Democratic votes in the Senate, said Gore can hold onto support within the Democratic Party and the public at large as long as he continues to explain himself clearly.

"All he has to do is just tell the American public what's going on - that we feel there should be a fair count," said Reid.

Sen. Tom Daschle and Rep. Dick Gephardt, the Senate and House Democratic leaders, issued a joint statement backing Gore and his drive for "a fair and accurate vote total."

"The American people are patient, we in Congress are patient, and so is our democracy," they said.