TALLAHASSEE, Fla. Democrats were divided yesterday over whether Al Gore should concede if he loses today’s historic case before the U.S. Supreme Court, which has already hinted it will swiftly rule in favor of George W. Bush.
Some Democrats, wary of having this political hot potato land in their laps on Capitol Hill, are hoping the vice president gives up if the high court rules against him. But others suggest he should fight on, even if that means trying to persuade Republican electors to defect.
“If this is concluded in the next 48 hours, the person who is on the losing side of this should go and meet with the winner,” said Sen. Robert G. Torricelli, New Jersey Democrat, on “Fox News Sunday.” “Whether that means Al Gore going to Austin or Governor Bush coming to Washington, there should be an immediate embrace following this, and put this issue behind us once and for all.”
But Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, said a Bush win in today’s Supreme Court case is not necessarily the end of the line for Mr. Gore.
“I don’t know that it is entirely over,” Mr. Harkin said on CNN’s “Late Edition.” “I think it presents another step in the process.”
One of the next steps, according to former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, might be persuading two or three Republican electors to defect from Mr. Bush, which would result in a tie in the Electoral College or even a win for Mr. Gore. If the Texas governor ends up prevailing in Florida, he will have 271 electoral votes or one more than he needs to become president.
“I hope all Americans understand that even if the Supreme Court does what it’s threatening to do which is to say we’re not going to let you look at the ballots; we’re going to say George Bush is the winner that will not make him the president,” Mr. Cuomo warned on CNN.
“After the Supreme Court would have beat Gore, there’s no guarantee that three or four electors who were previously supposed to vote for Bush wouldn’t turn around, out of anger and confusion, perhaps, and say, we’re going to go with Al Gore,” he said.
Mr. Cuomo suggested that if Mr. Gore loses the U.S. Supreme Court case, the next step for Democrats “could be to convince some electors previously thought to be committed to Bush. You only need three to make Al Gore president, even if he loses Florida. Think about that.”
Bush representative James A. Baker III said Republicans will try to stop Democrats from carrying out such a plan.
“We are in touch with our electors,” said the former secretary of state. “We hope very much that they will remain faithful. We believe they will.”
He added: “If they think they can swing some of them, they’re going to try. On the other hand, maybe we ought to be considering doing the same thing with theirs. What’s fair for one side, it seems to me, is fair for the other.”
But Gore representative Warren Christopher said Mr. Gore has no intention of trying to flip electors.
“The vice president has never said he would engage in that kind of activity, and I’m sure he won’t,” said Mr. Christopher, who is also a former secretary of state. “I think he’ll discourage” Democrats from pursuing this strategy.
“But that wouldn’t stop it,” Mr. Cuomo insisted. “Whatever Gore says, whatever Bush says, would not stop it.”
In any event, Gore officials would have little time to stage a successful raid on the Bush slate of electors. Tomorrow is the deadline for the Florida legislature to decide whether to directly appoint Florida’s 25 electors.
Although Florida has already certified the Bush electors to the national archivist in Washington, the state’s GOP-dominated legislature is in the midst of a special session that was convened for the express purpose of restoring the Bush electors in case they are dislodged by a Gore court victory. If uncertainty persists through tomorrow, lawmakers said they will vote to reaffirm the Bush electors before the Electoral College meets on Dec. 18.
“You can’t extend that deadline,” Mr. Baker said. “It’s in federal law. And you can’t extend the December 12 deadline.”
He said federal law states: “If you don’t have your electors selected by six days before the date set for meeting of the Electoral College, you’re not entitled then to the presumption that their selection is conclusive if the issue should ever go to the Congress. So we can’t extend those by what we do.”
Mr. Christopher disagreed.
“One thing I would like to correct: The 12th is not a deadline… . I think the real deadline is the 18th of December when the Electoral College meets.”
Gore lawyer David Boies was also eager to lower expectations for closure by tomorrow.
“I think certainly the December 12 deadline is a lot easier to extend than the December 18 deadline,” he said. “To some extent, both sides have already said this is going to go beyond December 12.
“In fact, the Florida Legislature is talking about possibly taking some action on December 13 or December 14,” he added. “So I think the December 12 deadline is important, but it is not nearly as critical as the December 18 deadline.”
But even Mr. Boies acknowledged that it will be difficult for the vice president to continue fighting if the U.S. Supreme Court orders a permanent halt to all recounts of ballots. Without these tallies, Mr. Gore has no way to overcome the Texas governor’s certified, 537-vote lead.
“If somehow Florida is told don’t count the votes that were cast, I think that’s the end of the road in terms of contesting the election,” he said, “because the only way to contest the election is to count the votes.”
Mr. Boies complained that the vice president’s race against the clock is being hampered by Republicans.
“Time is a problem,” he said. “And I think one of the problems that we’ve confronted from the beginning is that the Republicans have thrown up one obstacle after another to counting these votes.”
He said the latest roadblock was Saturday’s order by the U.S. Supreme Court to temporarily halt hand recounts that had been mandated less than 24 hours earlier by the Florida Supreme Court.
“Obviously, yesterday, the United States Supreme Court interrupted the count of the votes,” said Mr. Boies.
But Mr. Baker disagreed.
“The court didn’t delay things one day,” he said. “We went as a defensive matter, because we have a situation here where they are contesting everything. They’re protesting everything.”
He added: “And now they’re complaining that we are raising our constitutional rights in the United States Supreme Court?”