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Jeanne Meserve says Bush team elated but subdued

Jeanne Meserve
CNN Correspondent Jeanne Meserve  

CNN Correspondent Jeanne Meserve is in Austin, Texas, where she is talking with aides to Gov. George W. Bush about the latest developments in the election battle.

Q: What has been the reaction from the Bush camp to the U.S. Supreme Court stay on counting the Florida undervotes?

MESERVE: The operative phrase has been "subdued exuberance." Clearly they were elated to have received this stay from the U.S. Supreme Court that stopped the count of the undervotes. But don't forget the word "subdued" here. They know how many unexpected twists this story has taken and how complicated the legal chess game has been. Although they are hopeful that they will argue successfully before the U.S. Supreme Court, there's a real reluctance to assume that they will win or that the end is near.

Q: How is the Bush legal team holding up under the pressure?

MESERVE: I'm told that there are about a dozen lawyers working to prepare the legal brief. Some are in Washington, some are in Tallahassee. They're described as tired but focused. One Bush aide told me that the coffee pots are running dry and the adrenal glands are being squeezed dry. He told me that coolers line the walls in the Tallahassee workspace and the caffeine versions of the soft drinks go first. They bring in food continuously and, as this Bush aide put it, "They're still taking nourishment and that's a good sign."

The legal arguments are going to be familiar to people who have been following this case. One staffer described the arguments as "same song, tenth verse."

We have now heard that attorney David Boies is going to be arguing the case for the Gore team. When I asked the Bush team if that made any difference to their legal strategy, I was told: "No. We have the sense that he's spent a lot more time in front of the klieg lights instead of the law books."

Q: Has there been any sighting of Gov. Bush?

MESERVE: Right now he is en route back to Austin from his ranch in Crawford. This afternoon he hosts an open house for staff at the governor's mansion. Although at this point it's unclear how many will be there because so many of them have been dispatched to Florida and Washington.

The governor has been down at his ranch in Crawford quite a bit lately. It gets him away from the hurly-burly. When he's at the mansion, cameras are perched across the street from his driveway, and they monitor his every coming and going. It's also noisy at the mansion. There's a major bus route right outside and apparently that's disruptive. Bush loves the ranch. That's the place, I'm told, he feels most comfortable and relaxed. So it's logical that at this time of incredible stress he might want to go there to unwind as best he can.

While he's at the ranch he is doing work. We know he's had transition officials down there and he's even had congressional leaders down there and, of course, Colin Powell, who would likely be his secretary of state.

Q: If the Bush team successfully argues their case before the U.S. Supreme Court, are they worried about the possible implications of a later tallying of the undervotes?

MESERVE: The argument of the Bush camp is that the votes that have not been counted were not legal votes. And so, they say, any future tallying of the votes is irrelevant. What they maintain is that we have gone through a legitimate and legal process here and that Bush won the election: He won the recounts, he won the selected re-recounts and he is the certified winner in the state of Florida. (Former U.S. Secretary of State) James Baker was on many of the Sunday talk shows and repeatedly expressed the opinion that this whole question of legitimacy has been greatly overblown. So that's the tack they're taking.

Q: Has Bush written an acceptance speech?

MESERVE: That's a loaded question. I do not know the answer to that, but I think that if some ideas have been sketched out by his staff they would be very reluctant to say so. They are very concerned that they not look overly confident or presumptuous.

Q: It would seem that the acceptance and concession speeches will be much more than just a formality in this election, carrying more weight than is usual. Do you agree?

MESERVE: Definitely. Whoever gives the acceptance speech, be it Bush or Gore, is going to be extraordinarily conscious of the divisions that have been created by the closeness of this election and will have to make an extraordinary effort to heal the rift.

The concession speech will also be very important. The loser will have to strike some of the very same chords the winner does. I think both of these men have to recognize how unproductive it would be to the country and how damaging it would be to their future political prospects if they did anything but make a plea for the country to come together.


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Sunday, December 10, 2000

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