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Rothenberg One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.

Stuart Rothenberg: The Campaign of 2000, Part II

WASHINGTON (CNN) --The only things missing from the post-election presidential campaign are 15- and 30-second TV ads about the candidates' positions and why their opponents are corrupt. Otherwise, it's hard to tell that the presidential election is history.

The campaigns of Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush continue to battle in the courts and in the media for the hearts and minds of the American people. And, once again, many Americans are confused.

Each man is battling as if he has the moral high ground. But it's getting hard to tell who has what.

In trying to stop a full and complete count by hand in four key counties, Bush appears to be willing to accept less than an accurate count because he has a narrow lead. But the governor's real point is that a hand count is more easily manipulated by partisan county election officials than is a machine count.

Democrats control the four counties where Gore has requested a recount, and most knowledgeable observers expect he'd pick up enough votes to carry the state if the hand count is allowed. Of course, Bush may also request hand counts in other counties, though local officials (and the Gore campaign) may have to visit the question of what to do in those counties where the deadline has already passed for requesting a hand count.

Still, it's hard to argue with Gore's argument that he merely wants a full and fair counting of all ballots to ascertain the will of the electorate. Bush hasn't effectively countered that public relations argument.

Gore's complaint that some voters in Palm Beach County were "disenfranchised" by an allegedly confusing ballot is far less compelling. Regardless of whether some voters made mistakes -- and apparently 90 percent of those who cast ballots correctly figured out who they were voting for -- there is no way the results can be adjusted or a new election held.

The ballot was confusing, and Pat Buchanan almost certainly received some votes that were intended for the vice president. But both parties knew what the ballot would look like, and mistakes in voting happen all the time. Just as important, voters have to take responsibility of ensuring that they are voting for the right candidate.

Protests in Palm Beach orchestrated by Democrats and encouraged by the Rev. Jesse Jackson are even easier to ignore. We don't re-vote in this country simply because activists itching for a confrontation take to the streets or because some people don't like the results and want another election. If we did, we'd never get final election results.

If Bush loses Florida -- even if he believes local Democratic officials "stole" the election from him -- he has a difficult decision to make. Assuming he maintains his advantages in New Hampshire and New Mexico, the Texas governor could go ahead with challenges in Iowa, Oregon and Wisconsin, which were all won very narrowly by Gore. Or, Bush could simply accept the results in those three states, effectively ending his efforts to win the White House.

While Bush challenges in those states would be understandable, they would constitute a new front in the political war. Voters might start to see Bush as a sore loser, undermining his chances for a 2004 rematch with Gore.

The one mandate coming out of this election is for elected officials to devise a nearly foolproof ballot and voting system. But even that isn't likely to answer all questions when an election is close, a lot is at stake, and the parties and candidates involved don't trust each other.


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Tuesday, November 14, 2000

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