- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 14, 2000

AUSTIN, Texas The campaign of Republican George W. Bush says it holds the "moral high ground" over Democrat Al Gore and tried to paint him as desperate and willing to flout the law to win.

"It's becoming increasingly clear that Vice President Gore's campaign simply wants to keep counting votes until they like the result," Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes told reporters yesterday.

She also called "troubling" Mr. Gore's effort to get state courts to continue recounts by extending today's deadline for certified results, which is set under Florida law, according to secretary of state Katherine Harris.

"All week, the vice president and his campaign have said that Florida's law should be followed," Mrs. Hughes said. "Yet today the vice president essentially said that we should ignore the law so that he can overturn the results of this election."

Campaign adviser Ralph Reed said the campaign will continue to argue this week that Mr. Bush was the winner and Mr. Gore is a sore loser.

"I think what we're trying to do is ensure the integrity of the recount process in Florida," he said. "But we will be making the case that we won the election, we won the recount but for the objections of the Gore campaign, this election would be over."

The Texas governor is walking a delicate line this week, at once trying to make Mr. Gore look like the obstructionist and at the same time trying to force Florida officials to cut off the recount process, which so far favors Mr. Bush, but only by about 400 votes.

Meanwhile, Mr. Gore and his advisers yesterday sought to claim that same high ground by appealing for an accurate recount, regardless of how long it takes, to determine what they say is "the will of the people."

"A full, fair and accurate [tally] of the votes here in Florida will serve the national interest, whatever result is reached," said Gore emissary Warren Christopher.

Mr. Reed said Mr. Bush holds the "moral high ground" since vote counts since Tuesday have consistently shown Mr. Bush winning the election, if only narrowly.

"The burden of proof is on the Democrats" to prove to the public that Mr. Bush is not the president, he said.

A poll from late last week shows that the American public tends to agree with the campaign's assessment.

Yankelovich Partners surveyed 1,154 voters Friday as the first recount was in progress and found that 69 percent of Americans believe that Mr. Bush will eventually become president, while only 19 percent believe Mr. Gore will prevail. Even among those that voted for Mr. Gore, 50 percent believe Mr. Bush will come out on top.

The survey has a 2.9 percent margin of error.

A survey released yesterday by the Gallup Organization, however, shows that most Americans favor allowing officials in key counties to retally the ballots by hand, as Mr. Gore has suggested and which Mr. Bush unsuccessfully sought to block in court.

To change the public mind, the Bush campaign will seek to turn a Democratic argument on its head, saying that a hand recount in fact violates the civil rights of most Florida voters.

To date, Democrats have argued that a recount is a matter of civil rights, that those whose votes are uncounted or who were confused by the ballot layout in Palm Beach County were illegally disenfranchised.

But Mr. Reed noted that many ballots in other Florida counties were discarded because voters were confused or unable to operate the voting machines correctly.

In heavily Republican Duval County, for example, officials discarded about 20,000 defective ballots. Allowing a recount, or even a revote, in Palm Beach would in effect disenfranchise voters in other counties, such as Duval, that do not receive the same treatment.

"You can't have someone in one county count more than someone in another county," Mr. Reed said.

That disparity led the Bush campaign to try unsuccessfully to block the manual recount in court.

Although the court turned back the request, Mrs. Hughes made clear the campaign would continue to argue against the recounts. No decisions have been made about whether to appeal the federal court rejection.

"We are increasingly convinced that the manual recount that is now under way in selective, heavily Democratic, hand-selected counties cannot produce a fair and accurate result," she said.

"To produce a fair and accurate count, votes need to be counted fairly and accurately," she said. "Because there are no uniform standards governing this manual recount in four heavily Democratic areas, the votes in these four selective counties are not being counted fairly and accurately, they are being counted subjectively and selectively."

The Gore camp argued yesterday there is no reason to rush the recount because the tally of overseas ballots cannot be completed until Friday. And Mr. Christopher suggested that the Florida secretary of state has political motives for insisting on today's 5 p.m. vote count deadline.

"She's been a long supporter of Governor Jeb Bush in Florida, and she's also been active quite active in the campaign of Governor George W. Bush," Mr. Christopher said.

"Her plan, I'm afraid, has the look of an effort to produce a particular result in the election, rather than to ensure that the voice of all the citizens of the state would be heard. It also looks like a move in the direction of partisan politics and away from the nonpartisan administration of the election laws."

Mr. Bush himself made no public comment and decided not to return to Austin as expected. He instead huddled with advisers at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, far removed from the national press corps, scattered in hotels throughout the state capital.

"I don't think there's much [either campaign] can do," Bush adviser Charles Black, a Washington lawyer, said. "They might as well lay low and let the lawyers sort it out."

• Dave Boyer contributed to this report from Washington.

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