All Bush hands on deck

As he fights for his political life in Florida and plans his transition, the would-be president-elect is relying on his father's fixers.

By Anthony York

Published November 9, 2000 10:37PM (EST)

On a day when Al Gore's campaign chairman William Daley said he was "deeply troubled about the fairness of the election," George W. Bush's advisors held an afternoon press conference calling Daley's comments "shrill" and charging that the Gore campaign was making the Florida vote-counting process dangerously political.

"The Democrats who are politicizing and distorting these events risk doing so at the expense of our democracy," said Bush campaign chairman Donald Evans at an Austin, Texas, press conference. "One of the options that they seem to be looking at is new elections. Our democratic process calls for a vote on Election Day. It does not call for us to continue voting until somebody likes the outcome."

Earlier in the day, Daley did indeed entertain the idea of new elections in at least parts of Florida. "I think another election [is something] that will be looked at by the courts further down the road," Daley said.

Bush strategist Karl Rove offered a thinly veiled threat by way of rebuttal to the Gore campaign, talking about possible recounts in states that Gore carried narrowly -- including Wisconsin and Iowa.

The comments by Evans, along with those by Bush communications director Karen Hughes and chief strategist Rove, capped an unprecedented day in American political history that saw a violent escalation of the partisan showdown now underway over the nation's election results.

But even with the possibility looming that a Florida state judge may end up deciding the closest presidential race in history, the Bush campaign continued assembling its transition team.

Though Austin was publicly mum today about the transition, information leaked to reporters Wednesday revealed that would-be Vice President-elect Dick Cheney will spearhead the effort. Bush met Wednesday with foreign policy advisor Condoleezza Rice, who is rumored to be his choice for national security advisor. Other names in a possible Bush cabinet leaked Wednesday included Andrew Card as chief of staff and Colin Powell as secretary of state.

And while Bush claimed throughout his campaign that he was more than just his father's son, his administration seems to be shaping up as the second term the elder Bush never had. His Florida election monitor, of course, is former Bush Sr. secretary of state and campaign manager James Baker. And all of his presumptive appointments served in the first Bush administration -- Card as transportation secretary, Cheney as secretary of defense and Powell as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Rice served in the National Security Council under President Bush.

The fact that the Texas governor is pressing on by forming a transition team has been called arrogant by the Gore camp. "Let me address some remarks to the Bush campaign," Daley said. "I believe that their actions to try to presumptively crown themselves the victors, to try to put in place a transition, run the risk of dividing the American people and creating a sense of confusion."

One Gore advisor said the press leaks were emblematic of the confidence game the Bush campaign has been playing with the media for weeks in an attempt to create a sense of inevitability about a Bush presidency. In the closing days of the campaign, Bush chief strategist Karl Rove predicted Bush would win more than 320 electoral votes, and other campaign advisors talked openly with reporters about pending moves to Washington.

In a further sign that the Bush campaign will not cede this election easily, Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer told the Associated Press that the team was contemplating recounts in Wisconsin and Iowa, both of which were carried by Gore. "We're reviewing that right now," he said.

To ask for a recount, Bush would have to personally write each of Iowa's 99 county auditors by 5 p.m. Nov. 16 or 17, depending on the county, according to the AP.

The latest results show Gore up by just more than 7,000 votes in Wisconsin out of more than 2.6 million ballots cast. Gore is leading by 5,200 votes in Iowa, where more than 1.3 million people cast votes. Wisconsin has 11 electoral votes. Iowa has 7. If Gore, who has 260 electoral votes including the 18 from Iowa and Wisconsin, emerges victorious in Florida, but ends up losing both Iowa and Wisconsin, it would still leave him 3 electoral votes shy of the 270 needed to claim the presidency. The Bush campaign also said a recount is underway in New Mexico, though it was unclear whether there were enough outstanding ballots to actually tip the state to Bush.

No matter who wins this election, there will be an initial tarnish on the new president-elect, who may find it difficult to work in Washington if serious questions about the election's legitimacy persist. Already, as a subtle way of questioning the legitimacy of a possible Bush victory, Democrats have been pointing out that regardless who wins the Florida challenge, Gore is still winning the nation's popular vote.

Thursday, Bush strategist Rove made a point of reminding reporters that absentees were still being tallied in Arizona, Colorado and California. In a sign that the campaign is concerned about a possible scenario of Bush holding on to the Electoral College vote and losing the popular vote, Rove noted that the ballots still being counted would likely result in an "increasing number of popular votes for Gov. Bush."

Anthony York

Anthony York is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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