- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 15, 2000

AUSTIN, Texas The Bush campaign yesterday sought to put pressure on Democrat Al Gore, offering him a deal that would have ended the election impasse by the weekend and forcing the vice president's campaign to explain why it was insisting on continued litigation.
"We have had counts, we have had multiple counts, we have had multiple recounts and selective manual counts," said former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, the chief Republican official on the scene in Florida, where electoral confusion and legal wrangling have stalled the results of the election for more than a week. "Ladies and gentlemen, it is time to bring this to a close."
"There have been no allegations of vote fraud in the count or in the recount no fraud, just the confusion of certain individuals," he said, "yet the Gore campaign refuses to accept the result."
Mr. Baker offered to end the Bush campaign's efforts to block manual recounting in four key counties provided the Gore campaign agreed to abide by a deadline of 5 p.m. yesterday set by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris.
Both campaigns then would agree to abide by the final count once all overseas and absentee ballots are counted by late Friday or Saturday, "and then, ladies and gentlemen, the courts will not decide this election," he said.
"The American people want the parties to find a way to bring this election to an end… . Many people around the country have urged the candidates to reach out to one another with a fair proposal to resolve this very divisive and unfortunate process," Mr. Baker said. "We are doing just that."
The Gore campaign quickly rejected the deal, calling it the equivalent of "offering you sleeves from his vest."
"I see a yearning in the country for the votes to be correctly counted, and I think we are going down that path," said former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Mr. Gore's chief officer in Florida.
But the Democratic campaign was clearly thrown on the defensive by the Republican offer, forced to fend off aggressive questions from the press and denying vehemently that Mr. Gore is the one drawing out the electoral tangle.
"We all have full faith in the court system," said former Commerce Secretary William M. Daley, head of Mr. Gore's campaign, as he met with Democratic members of Congress to appeal for support, "and there's nothing inappropriate about people trying to get redress in the courts; that's the heart of our system and I think we ought to not be afraid of it any of us."
Mr. Baker's offer appeared to seize the initiative from the Gore campaign. A report in the Los Angeles Times yesterday indicated that the vice president's staff was considering an offer to Mr. Bush to drop all lawsuits in return for a full manual recount in all 67 Florida counties, including the strongly Republican counties in central and northern Florida.
If such an offer was ever in the works, it was quickly discarded after Mr. Baker's remarks and both campaigns emphatically denied that there had been back-door negotiations between the candidates.
The Bush offer was bolstered some hours after Mr. Baker made it when a state court in Florida ruled that Mrs. Harris was within her rights to set a 5 p.m. deadline, although the judge left it to her discretion to accept recounts that come in later. Democrats seized on that part of the ruling to justify their rejection of the deal.
Texas Gov. George W. Bush has felt since the Nov. 7 election that he holds the "moral high ground" over Mr. Gore, since the Republican won the initial count in Florida and has held on to his tiny lead through at least two recounts in key counties. The Florida secretary of state last night certified results giving Mr. Bush a 300-vote lead with overseas ballots and manual recounts pending.
Mr. Bush, who remained at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, yesterday, continued to project an image of confidence, even consulting with advisers about the shape of his administration. He has been careful, however, not to make any formal comments about the transition team until after the election is settled.
A Gallup poll, conducted over the weekend for CNN and USA Today, found that 59 percent of Americans favor a quick concession and an end to the litigation, while only 38 percent support continued challenges. The survey also found that a vast majority of Americans will accept either man as the legitimate winner of the election if the other concedes 82 percent say they would accept Mr. Gore and 79 percent say they would accept Mr. Bush.

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