- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 23, 2000

AUSTIN, Texas Texas Gov. George W. Bush yesterday accused the Democrats of trying to steal the presidential election, a charge his subordinates have made but that the Republican candidate has avoided.
"I believe Secretary Cheney and I won the vote in Florida. And I believe some are determined to keep counting in an effort to change the legitimate result," Mr. Bush said in a statement to reporters at the state Capitol.
Mr. Bush spoke ostensibly yesterday morning to react to the hospitalization of running mate Richard B. Cheney in Washington, but his remarks soon turned to bitter condemnation of the Florida Supreme Court ruling late Tuesday that could doom his quest for the White House.
"The court had cloaked its ruling in legalistic language. But make no mistake, the court rewrote the law. It changed the rules, and it did so after the election was over," Mr. Bush said.
This is by far the strongest language Mr. Bush has used in the 2-week-old election impasse in Florida. Until now, Mr. Bush has left the harshest charges to subordinates particularly communications director Karen Hughes and Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, who has emerged from relative obscurity to become a chief Bush spokesman.
The most Mr. Bush has been willing to say until yesterday was that the process of recounting in Florida could be open to human error and "mischief."
But the stunning news that the Florida Supreme Court would force Secretary of State Katherine Harris to honor the results of manual recounts under way in heavily Democratic counties caused the campaign to ratchet up the rhetoric.
"Two weeks after the election, that court has changed the rules and invented a new system for counting the election results… . It is simply not fair, ladies and gentlemen, to change the rules either in the middle of the game, or after the game has been played," said former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, Mr. Bush's chief representative in Florida, hours after the ruling.
Mr. Bush himself stayed out of sight Tuesday night and did not respond even when Vice President Al Gore made a triumphant statement shortly after the ruling.
In his remarks yesterday, Mr. Bush clearly laid the groundwork for a challenge of the state Supreme Court ruling in federal courts. Mr. Bush had previously asked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta to block the manual recounts. He said local officials were conducting the counts in an arbitrary way, and that the idea of recounting in only Democratic counties violated the rights of voters in other counties.
The federal appeals court refused last week to step into the Florida fray but invited either party to return after the Florida Supreme Court ruled. Mr. Bush's words yesterday were clearly aimed at the judges on the federal appeals court and the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Voters who cast their ballots in accordance with the rules, in accordance with law, have rights. And voters who choose not to cast a vote for president have that right, and no one else has the right to make their choice for them," he said.
Mr. Bush spoke before news that officials in predominantly Democratic Miami-Dade County would not recount their ballots, saying they could not meet the Sunday deadline set by the state Supreme Court.
Despite the good news from Miami, the mood in Austin was somber yesterday after the adverse Supreme Court ruling and the sudden hospitalization of Mr. Cheney. Mr. Bush looked serious and businesslike during his remarks. He did stop to greet a small crowd of supporters outside the state Capitol but he made no remarks.
One man in the crowd bellowed out "You'll beat them in the legislature," a reference to the idea that the Republican-dominated Florida legislature may step in to overrule the Supreme Court. Mr. Bush did not react, although the cry was clearly loud enough to be heard from where he stood.
Outside the governor's mansion there was little sign of the enthusiastic pro-Bush demonstrators who have gathered in recent days. As noon approached, when demonstrators usually gather before the media in advance of the midday newscasts, the sidewalk was bare in front of the mansion gates.
Mr. Bush plans to spend today with his wife and two daughters at the home of friends in Austin. He will drive later in the day to the family ranch near Waco, about two hours north of the state capital, where he will spend a few days.
He is expected back in Austin on Saturday or Sunday, when the final recount results are due at the Florida secretary of state's office under Tuesday's Florida Supreme Court order.
Mr. Bush said yesterday he spoke with Mr. Cheney by phone shortly after his running mate was admitted to George Washington University Hospital complaining of chest pains. Mr. Cheney has suffered several heart attacks previously and underwent heart bypass surgery more than a decade ago.
"I was so pleased to hear his voice this morning. He sounded strong and vibrant," Mr. Bush said of his running mate.

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