- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 6, 2000

Vice President Al Gore, determinedly upbeat amid a Washington deathwatch, said yesterday he remains "optimistic" he will yet prevail.

Mr. Gore gave no sign he is ready to concede, but said the election drama will reach "an important point" when the Florida Supreme Court rules on his appeal.

"I don't feel anything other than optimistic," Mr. Gore told reporters in the White House driveway. "And the team down in Tallahassee feels that way also."

Mr. Gore expressed concern about NAACP charges that some blacks in Florida were impeded from voting, but stressed he has no firsthand knowledge of such events.

"I am very troubled by a lot of the stories that have been reported about a roadblock on the way to one precinct, questions raised about various activities there," Mr. Gore said.

"Whenever you have allegations of those kind, that is a matter that the entire country ought to take seriously," he said.

In the meantime yesterday, Mr. Gore's running mate, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, rallied Democrats on Capitol Hill. The Connecticut Democrat promised that the Florida Supreme Court, which hears oral arguments tomorrow morning, will be "the final arbiter" in the election fracas.

Mr. Lieberman met with House Democrats to ease fears they are losing the public relations battle by prolonging the election through court battles.

Democrats snuck down side stairwells after the meeting to avoid the press and left the talking to their leader unlike Republicans who were eager to talk with reporters following their caucus meeting with Richard B. Cheney, Texas Gov. George W. Bush's running mate.

Mr. Lieberman called the Democratic session "a most encouraging meeting," but spoke wistfully of the campaign in the past tense.

"I think the members of the House Democratic Caucus feel, as Al Gore and I did, proud of the race we ran, proud of the principles we ran on, grateful for the support we received throughout America," Mr. Lieberman said.

Mr. Gore sought grounds for hope as two new polls showed voters want the standoff to end. In an NBC News poll, 59 percent said Mr. Gore should concede; 58 percent told Gallup that the vice president should concede.

On Capitol Hill, Democratic leaders offered another public vote of confidence for Mr. Gore and Mr. Lieberman.

"Al Gore and Joe Lieberman enjoy strong support in our caucus for what they're doing to try to get every vote counted in Florida," said House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said there is "no erosion of support" in the Democratic caucus.

Sen. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat, once touted as a possible Cabinet secretary for George W. Bush, told his colleagues he would refuse any Cabinet offers. Mr. Breaux, who once suggested Mr. Gore should concede, said the final decision should rest with Florida's Supreme Court.

"I hope this country will respect their decision," Mr. Breaux said.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland Democrat, said she still supports Mr. Gore, but warned he is in the 15th round of a 15-round bout.

"He has a right to go his 15 rounds and throw his last three punches," she said.

House Democrats insisted that they remain upbeat but appeared defensive. Some members were defiant, others sounded weary and resigned.

"Now is not the time to even think about throwing in the towel," said Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, an ardent Gore supporter. He noted that Mr. Lieberman got "a rousing, standing ovation" in the caucus meeting.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, spoke stridently of his support for Mr. Gore, blaming the media and a poorly informed public for the perception that the Democrat is losing his bid for the White House.

"I believe Al Gore won this election. I believe it in my gut, just as much as they believe George Bush won," he said, waving his hand at a group of Republicans nearby.

Mr. Hoyer said Democrats have failed to make clear to the public that Mr. Gore won the popular vote by almost 300,000 votes.

"This is not some pretender, not some usurper of the people's will," Mr. Hoyer said. "It is the people's will that Al Gore be president."

Other Democrats, however, seemed far more resigned even as they proclaimed continued party unity.

"I think it was important to go through the court battle, the court process to get where we are today," said Rep. Chris John of Louisiana, one of the leading conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats in Congress.

Mr. John refused to predict who would become president, but he said a Florida judge's refusal Monday to order more recounts put the campaign "in a situation of finality."

He said it is appropriate to appeal to the Florida Supreme Court, "but outside of that, it's hard to see where you go."

Mr. Gore said he still believes he has a "50-50" chance to prevail, despite his defeat in Leon County Circuit Court.

He admitted he is the underdog, but added: "I've felt that way for two years now."

• Sean Scully and Dave Boyer contributed to this report.

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