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Allies tell Gore to back down

Special report: the US elections

Martin Kettle in Washington Saturday November 11, 2000

Al Gore was last night coming under intense pressure from both allies and foes to step back from legal action and accept the final count of the US 2000 presidential election in Florida when it is completed in a week's time.

Senior Democrats have warned Mr Gore in a series of mainly private but sometimes public messages that the US political system may not be able to take the strain if he presses ahead regardless with plans to challenge Tuesday's elections in the Florida courts.

Party leaders are worried that public support for Mr Gore's challenge to George W Bush's claims to the presidency, currently running at well above 50% in the opinion polls, may begin to drain away if Mr Bush is once more declared the winner in Florida when all the votes are counted.

The key deadline in America's post-election uncertainty seems increasingly to be next Friday, the final date by which the state's overseas postal votes can be accepted by election officials.

Republicans redoubled the pressure on Mr Gore to throw in the towel even sooner than that. Mr Bush's official observer in Florida, James Baker, said Mr Gore should concede the election after news agencies reported that the officially ordered recount there had produced a tiny majority of 327 votes for Mr Bush.

"It is frustrating to lose an election by a narrow margin, but it happens," the former US secretary of state said in a statement in Tallahassee, the Florida state capital.

"For the good of the country and for the sake of our standing in the world, the campaigning should end and the business of an orderly transition should begin."

The Gore campaign hit back that such calls were inappropriate. "The outcome here in Florida remains in doubt, as it will for several more days," Mr Gore's chief observer William Daley said in Tallahassee. "Calls for the declaration of a victor before all the votes are accurately tabulated are inappropriate."

There was nevertheless a change of tone and emphasis in Mr Daley's remarks yesterday, with the stress on the need to await the full count of votes, including overseas postal votes, rather than on challenging the fairness of the election in the courts. That shift reflects the high delicacy of the continuing post-election stand-off, in which both sides are acutely aware that they are fighting a battle for public sympathy as much as for judicial approval.

Among the senior Democrats who are understood to have counselled caution to Mr Gore are the party leader in the House of Representatives Dick Gephardt, as well as two outspoken Democrats in the Senate, John Breaux of Louisiana and Robert Torricelli of New Jersey, who went public with his views last night.

"I want Al Gore to win this election but, more than that, I want somebody to win this election," Mr Torricelli said yesterday. "I would urge both Al Gore and George W Bush to think of the country - the continuity of its government, its stability - and avoid any collateral attacks on the process."

Mr Gore kept out of the limelight again yesterday - he has only made one brief public comment on the election since early Wednesday morning. The vice-president ordered his campaign team to leave its Nashville headquarters and regroup in Washington. Mr Gore spent the day at his official residence in the capital.

The Gore campaign was reported yesterday to be preparing to raise $4-5m in order to help finance any legal challenges.

Mr Daley made clear that Gore campaign lawyers now believed that the ballot in Florida's Palm Beach county was unlawful because of the form of the ballot paper used there. He said their conclusion had been "implicitly acknowledged by the election supervisor who put out a flyer on election day warning about the problems."

The county election supervisor at the centre of the storm, Theresa LePore, a Democrat, was said to have spent most of the day in tears.

A recount by hand will begin today in three precincts in Palm Beach County as Democrats seek further evidence to prevent the award of Florida's 25 electoral college votes to Mr Bush. Officials in Volusia county near Daytona Beach have also agreed to conduct a sample hand count.

Both parties are upbeat about their chances of capturing the postal votes, with Republicans relying on the armed services and some Latino support and Democrats claiming that absentees in Israel and black American service voters will swing the result their way.

Bigger political calculations are increasingly making themselves felt as the tension drags on in Florida. A recount may have to be triggered in Oregon, officials hinted yesterday. Republicans are also poised to call for second counts in Iowa, New Mexico and Wisconsin, all of which Mr Gore won by narrow margins, if Mr Bush tells them to do so.

Latest calculations from Tuesday's election published yesterday continued to show Mr Gore ahead in the overall popular vote across the US. At the latest count, Mr Gore had 49.11m votes as against 48.89m for Mr Bush.

Mr Gore has 260 electoral college votes compared with Mr Bush's 246, with 270 required for victory. Florida's 25 votes and Oregon's seven votes remain outstanding.

Election countdown

Today: Second recount, this time by hand, begins in parts of Palm Beach and Volusia counties

November 14: Deadline for completion of all recounts in Florida

November 17: Eligible Florida postal votes must be received

December 18: Electoral college meets in each state

January 6: Congress meets to receive the electoral college vote

January 20: Inauguration of new president

Allies tell Gore to back down

-- Ain't Gonna Happen (Not Here, November 10, 2000

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