Traffic Jam On The High Road

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AP / CBS
There’s a traffic jam on the High Road.

George W. Bush campaign chairman Don Evans announced Thursday that Bush will not request a recount of the presidential vote in Iowa, where Al Gore won by less than 1 percent.

By conceding Iowa, Bush shows that, unlike Gore, he is willing to die politically for the good of the country. (Without Florida's 25 electoral votes, Bush would have to overturn the results in at least three of the closest states to win the presidency).

Bush’s decision comes on the heels of Wednesday night’s televised prime-time shootout between Bush and Gore, where Gore called for a conciliatory summit meeting and publicly instructed his supporters to “lift up this discourse” and remember the big picture.

He may have broken into the evening newscasts like a hurricane warning, but when Gore spoke he was the picture of presidential calm.

A poised, smiling Gore philosophized, “I don’t know what the final results will show, but I do know this is about much more than what happens to me or my opponent; it is about our democracy. My faith is in the people’s will, in our Constitution and in our system of self government.”

While Gore talks the talk of closure and conciliation, sources on his campaign say that Bush’s rejection of Gore’s offer to foreswear litigation in exchange for an agreement to respect a tally involving at least some manual recounts, gives them a certain … latitude.

In fact, sources say, “all options” are back on the table.

Among the tactics of last resort under consideration: suing for a new election in Palm Beach County, and maybe Broward County.

As they say in kickball: “Do-over!”

So far, the American people have been patient and cool-headed.

Despite the mistrust of the criminal justice system exposed by police misconduct scandals in New York and Los Angeles (not to speak of the O.J. trial), polls conducted over the weekend showed a high degree of confidence and calm in the civil legal institutions governing the traditionally bloodless business of the transfer of executive power.

After all, these are the same people who sat tight for over a year while the mortifying Lewinsky matter trudged through the constitutionally prescribed impeachment process.

In a Pew Research poll out this week, almost 68 percent said that if Bush pulls out a narrow victory in Florida, winning the Electoral College, he will have “legitimately won the election.” And a CBS News/New York Times survey conducted over the weekend found that 62 percent think the fact that we don’t have a winner yet is “not really a problem.”

So far, the public division and the delegitimization of the next president foretold by partisans and experts has been like Y2K anxiety: the only people stockpiling ammo are the ones spreading the rumors.

But will the calm last?

Poitical scientist Leonie Huddy of the State University of New York at Stonybrook thinks the Bush-Gore statements will be heard by more Americans than the same arguments were when made by their lieutenants and lawyers for the cameras in Florida this week. And that will deepen the partisan divide, which is already apparent just below the surface of the polls.

A public opinion expert, Huddy says when asked what should be done in Florida, poll respondents are breaking along partisan lines, but there's no hue and cry yet.

“My reading of this is people are patient because the process doesn’t seem to be over,” says Huddy. For example, Huddy says Americans have been aware that Florida is receiving overseas ballots through Friday. But once “one of these legitimate deadlines passes” she predicts things will become “increasingly partisan” and direct involvement by Gore and Bush will only increase the public’s sense of “partisan bickering.”

“After tomorrow, especially given George W. Bush’s speech last night, his supporters will become impatient with the process” because to their way of thinking “it’s over,” says Huddy. “By Monday, I guess there is going to be greater heat.”

The early polls suggest the Gore team may have some explaining to do if they decided to go all the way with the win-ugly strategy.

Asked by the Pew poll what Gore should do if the recounts show Bush wins Florida “by a narrow margin,” 67 percent said “concede.” Even on the question of Palm Beach County, ground zero for complaints about a confusing ballot design, where 19,000 double-punched ballots were thrown out, respondents to Pew (59-36) and ABC (61-33) polls said no to a new vote.

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