- The Washington Times - Friday, December 8, 2000

Even Al Gore's aides don't know when high noon will come.

The vice president's posse hinted yesterday that Mr. Gore plans to fight yet again, even if the Florida Supreme Court shoots down his appeal for recounts.

"I think we have to see what the court says in all cases," Gore spokesman Doug Hattaway said, referring to lawsuits in Martin and Seminole County that deal with thousands of absentee ballots.

Pinning down Mr. Gore's last stand is like nailing jelly to a tree.

Senior aides say neither Mr. Gore nor his aides have begun to draft a concession speech.

But if Mr. Gore loses his appeal in Florida's Supreme Court, he may also lose his appeal among Democrats on Capitol Hill.

As the seven Florida justices mulled the vice president's fate, fellow Democrats said they are running low on patience.

"This is coming to an end," Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, told the Associated Press.

A Bush presidency "looks more and more" likely, he said.

In Florida yesterday, even Mr. Gore's lawyers seemed perplexed that the end is not imminent.

"Well, you thought that, and we might have thought that, but it might not be," lawyer Dexter Douglass told reporters following arguments in Florida's Supreme Court.

"I'm going to give you an answer that's ambiguous," he said, because Mr. Gore must make the final decision.

"Obviously, what goes forward at any time is in the hand of our client," Mr. Douglass said.

Mr. Douglass' client has offered a series of nebulous statements, hinting that he would battle until mid-De-

cember.

The amorphous phrasing gives Mr. Gore important leeway between Dec. 12, the date Florida must certify its electors, and Dec. 18, the date the Electoral College meets.

Mr. Gore's running mate and his lawyers have tried to be more definitive, only to be overtaken by events and the vice president's evolving strategy.

"Of course everything's going to be over by December 12," Gore attorney David Boies said Nov. 26 in Tallahassee, Fla.

But Mr. Boies began to hedge yesterday.

"The Florida Supreme Court sets the drop-dead date," he said.

"They don't make arguments for me, and I don't make decisions for them. But I think that what they have consistently said is that they expect this to be over by December 12. We believe it can be over by December 12."

On Capitol Hill Tuesday, vice-presidential candidate Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman seemed to say the battle would end when Florida's Supreme Court took up the recount appeal from Leon County Circuit Court.

But that afternoon, Mr. Gore stood in the White House driveway and expressed strong interest in the Seminole County and Martin County cases even though he is not a party to those suits.

Mr. Hattaway gamely tried to stay on the shifting message yesterday.

"I think it's hard for me to stand here and speculate what sort of outcome we're going to get from those" Seminole and Martin cases, Mr. Hattaway said in an interview with CBS' "Early Show."

"I dare say that those cases are going to end up here at the Florida Supreme Court, just like ours is now."

Mr. Gore and Mr. Lieberman remained silent yesterday. They watched the arguments in Florida's Supreme Court with their wives, Tipper and Hadassah, at the vice president's mansion on the grounds of the Naval Observatory in Washington.

They sent their top aide, Campaign Chairman William M. Daley, to Florida, mostly to thank their legal team.

"This entire proceeding has been based on one premise that every vote should count," Mr. Daley said. "We look forward to the decision of the court. We respect them."

Following the oral arguments, Mr. Gore, Mr. Lieberman and their wives went to lunch at Cafe Deluxe near Georgetown.

In Tallahassee, a reporter asked Mr. Boies whether the current case in the Florida Supreme Court is the end of the line.

"I don't know the answer to that," Mr. Boies said.

"I would assume so, but I don't know the answer to that."

On Wednesday, a Boston radio station sent a "fat lady" to sing outside Mr. Gore's residence.

"Gore's campaign said he wouldn't give up till the fat lady sings," Juanita Dickinson said outside the Naval Observatory's gate.

"I'm a fat lady, and I'm singing."

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