Refusing To Blink

gore bush florida
While the nation watches the Florida vote recount, awaiting a new president, the campaigns of George W. Bush and Al Gore cautiously "spin" the situation in a final campaign fight for public opinion.

In Austin, Texas, on Friday, Bush met with running mate Dick Cheney and advisers who are expected to have roles in a Bush administration.

"I'm in the process of planning … a new Administration," a weary-looking Bush told a gaggle of ravenous reporters. (He sported a large Band-Aid on his cheek — the result of an infection.)

Bush was also seriously considering seeking a court order to stop Gore's campaign from securing manual recounts of contested ballots in Florida, as both sides of an improbably deadlocked presidential election looked to the judicial branch for help in the make-or-break state.

Gore played touch football with his adult children at the vice president's residence in Washington, and indicated he would be making no public appearances through Sunday.

Gore may have received a significant boost in Oregon, as CBS News projected him as the winner there late Friday.

With 99 percent of the votes counted, Gore has 698,252 votes, compared with 692,279 for Bush. That's a difference of 5,973 votes. This is the closest presidential race in Oregon since 1976, when Gerald Ford carried Oregon by only 1,700 votes.

Gore now has 262 electoral votes, with 270 needed to win the White House. Bush has 246 votes, but Florida still hangs in the balance.

Bush leads Gore in Florida by 331 votes, according to an unofficial tally of the Florida recount by Voter News Service. With up to several thousand overseas absentee ballots expected, the winner is still uncertain.

While the candidates themselves maintain the appearance of business-as-usual, their surrogates are engaged in a PR war, trying to sell the voters one last message.

Campaign 2000
Full Coverage

Presidential Race
  • Electoral College Primer
    By Ray Bassett
  • Echoes Of 1960
    By Gary Paul Gates
  • Fla. Ballot Ballet
    The Dance Continues
  • Over There
    Will Fla. Absentees
    Be The Kingmakers?
  • A World Of Wonder
    U.S. Vote The No. 1
    Story Around The Globe
  • Florida Protests
    Throng Converges
    On Palm Beach
  • Why So Wrong?
    CBS Looks Back
    On Election Night
  • Network Hangover
    Congressman Eyes
    Election-Night Goofs

    House Races
  • GOP Keeps House
    But Dems Make Gains
  • Key Calif. Seat Turns
    Rogan Vs. Schiff

    Senate Races
  • Senate Races
    GOP Retains Control
  • Washington State
    Sen. Gorton Pads Lead
  • Hillary Makes History
    Meet Senator Clinton
  • Carnahan Wins
    Tearful Ashcroft Concedes

    And More...
  • Video
    Fresh Off The Trail
  • Gubernatorial Races
    Statehouse Status Quo
  • In a late-night conference call Friday, Bush gave former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, who's protecting the Texas governor's interests in Florida, authority to seek a court injunction barring the manual recounts, according to several Republican officials involved in the discussions.

    The officials said it was likely the injunction would be sought, but stressed that it was up to Baker to make the final decision. A source close to Baker said the former secretary had not decided. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity.

    The decision, however tentative, underscores the Bush campaign's concern that a widespread manual recount could undermine his fragile lead over Gore. Baker had said earlier that he's prepared to "vigrously fight" the manual recount because they open the process to mistakes and fraud that are avoided by machine counts.

    Meanwhile, the Democrats' message as delivered by Gore campaign chairman Bill Daley is: You wuz robbed. Thousands of Americans, he said, were effectively "disenfranchised" by faulty ballot forms and other irregularities, and they should have a remedy.

    In an exclusive interview with CBS News Anchor Dan Rather, Democratic vice presidential hopeful Joe Lieberman echoed the party line: "We believe sincerely in this extraordinarily close election that the right of some people in Florida to vote was frustrated, was blocked and that's the principle. The broader principle also is that when a president takes office on January 20 of 2001, that president should have emerged from an election process over which there were no clouds."

    The Republicans' message as delivered by Bush campaign chief Don Evans and eminence gris Baker is: Gore won't leave the stage. He's digging his heels in, defying precedent, and damaging public faith in government.

    When Bush's Election Night margin of victory in Florida shrank to less than half of one percentage point, triggering a recount required by statute, it seemed the die was cast, and the outcome of the election was out of the hands of the partisans.

    But morning-after reports of ballot irregularities meant the fight could go on.

    The Democrats struck first when Daley announced Gore's intent to request recounts in Palm Beach and three other Florida counties.

    Daley said the Bush campaign was rushing to wrap things up before the truth comes out. "They put a demand for finality ahead of the pursuit of fairness," Daley charged.

    The GOP's Evans responded, implying the Democrats are sore losers. "Our democratic process calls for a vote on Election Day, it does not call for us to continue voting until someone likes the outcome."

    Two former secretaries of state were brought in, one from each party, to oversee the resolution. Democrat Warren Christopher and Republican Baker were supposed to lend an air of dignity and probity to the elective endgame.

    But Baker joined the fray Friday, ratcheting up the rhetoric and playing the patriot card against Gore. Baker reminded the cameras that in close modern elections in 1960 and 1976, Republicans Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford "accepted the vote for the good of the country."

    The message was clear. The Gore campaign will be responsible for any loss of public faith in government, and any loss of face abroad.

    "For the good of the country and for the sake of our standing in the world," Baker said, "the campaigning should end and the business of an orderly transition should begin."

    Give And Take

    CBS News altered its projections in two states Friday, rducing and then increasing Al Gore's electoral vote tally.

    First, CBS News moved the four electoral votes of the state of New Mexico, which is currently recounting votes in some counties, out of Gore's column and back into the undecided column. Less than 200 votes now separate Gore and George W. Bush in New Mexico.

    A New Mexico judge announced later Friday that 253 missing ballots had been located. They were found in the box in a storage room.

    Later, CBS News projected that Gore had won the state of Oregon's seven electoral votes, with 695,943 votes to Bush's 690,760 — a difference of over 5,000 votes.

    The current tally has Gore with 262 electoral votes, instead of the 260 he started the day with. Bush's electoral vote tally was 246.

    (Told of Baker's remarks at a Friday press conference, Christopher was mellow. "If there is an escalation of rhetoric on the other side, I am not inclined to join it," he said, adding that he'd had a "good meeting" with Baker whom he described as an old colleague and friend.)

    The tug-of-war is a high wire act for both camps, either of which could overplay its hand.

    It would be ironic if Bush, who ran as a plainspoken, clean-living paragon of integrity, came to power with some of the public suspicious that he'd somehow stolen the election.

    Bush admitted during the campaign that he fought against the misconception that he was running "on my daddy's name." It doesn't help a President-elect Bush's "legitimacy" if it looks like the family consigliere swooped into Florida and fixed things for him, with the cooperation of W's brother Jeb, the Florida governor (who has recused himself from the process to avoid just such appearances).

    On the other side, if the Gore team persuades the public that the process is corrupt, and they win in the end, they will have shaken Americans' confidence in the system, thus delegitimizing their own guy.

    But Gore has less to lose by pushing hard through his lieutenants, Daley and Christopher. He already has a trust problem, after all, with exit polls showing that the honesty issue worked against him nationally.

    Given a choice of more than a half dozen personal qualities including "experience", "good judgment" and strong leadership, more voters ranked "honesty and truthfulness" first as the most important personal characteristic for a presidential candidate.

    Among the 24 percent who ranked honesty first, Bush beat Gore 80 to 15 percent. Voters who feel the country is going in the wrong direction morally went for Bush about 2-to-1.

    Rather than the "fresh start after a season of cynicism" that Bush promised, the new president may make a late start on his transition, arriving in Washington beneath a cloud of public suspicion and partisan hostility.

    This week's election was one of the closest in history. Gore holds a slim lead over Bush in the national popular vote. But without Florida's 25 electral votes, neither candidate has the necessary 270-vote majority in the Electoral College to succeed Bill Clinton as president on January 20.