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Special Event

Al Gore Defends His Decision to Contest Florida's Presidential Election

Aired November 27, 2000 - 8:55 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Al Gore's comments to the nation are just a few minutes away. First, let's take a look at some new poll numbers just coming into CNN. In the latest CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll, 42 percent of respondents say they approve of how Al Gore's handling the Florida recount, but that's a 10 percent decline since the question was first asked after election day.

When asked if Gore should concede the election, 56 percent said yes, 38 percent said no. But when broken down further, 36 percent of Gore supporters say he should give up.

As for Gore's decision to contest the election results certified last night by Florida secretary of state, 40 percent approve, 57 percent say they disapprove.

Let's bring in CNN senior analyst Jeff Greenfield. Jeff, it looks like Al Gore has his work cut out for him tonight.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Wolf, that's a rare understatement. These numbers confirm the sense that's been around that what Al Gore has to try to do is two things: He has to convince the public that this is more than a fight about who gets to be president. He has to do it without sounding sanctimonious, which has been a problem for him in the past. He has to convince the public that they should regard this as more than a spectator sport in which whoever is certified as winning as far as the public seems to be concerned, that's OK with them because they don't have a strong feeling about him.

That's a lot to do in a five-minute speech.

BLITZER: Is this, as some are already suggesting, Jeff, the most important speech of Al Gore's life?

GREENFIELD: Well, you know, by process of elimination, Wolf, I think so. We always talk about the acceptance speeches as the most important speech of a candidate's life. But in a sense, he's giving another acceptance speech, or at least a speech in which he's pleading for support under circumstances much more difficult than standing in a hall packed with supporters.

What we're getting I think in these numbers -- and you know how much I distrust polls -- is a certain feeling that come on, enough already, which is the basic Republican line of the last few days. I think it suggests that that certification, however incomplete that may be in legal terms, had a powerful political impact.

And his acceptance speech in Los Angeles was almost an hour. Here he has a self-imposed five minutes that he's giving himself.

GREENFIELD: Well, (a) I think he's recognizing that the public's patience, particularly when we're in the middle of primetime season, is limited. And I think he's trying to figure out some way, without annoying the public, without imposing on it -- unlike an acceptance speech where people settle in and watch expecting for a lengthy recital -- is he's going to try to have to make a few basic points about why this matters. And the trick, as I suggested earlier is, I think for most people, if he tries to say this has nothing to do with whether I win or not, they're going to say, come off it, both you and Governor Bush want to be president, you know, and that's what this fight's about.

So to both be realistic to a somewhat cynical public and to appeal to something beyond self-interest, you know, if I'm the speech writer tonight, I'm earning my keep and more.

BLITZER: Is his address aimed largely at some Democrats who might become wobbly or the nation as a whole, including Bush supporters?

GREENFIELD: Well, no, I think we'll know a lot more after the speech, which is why hindsight is always 20/20. But if you -- I think he has not had a problem, as you and other people have been reporting so far, in keeping the Democratic base behind him. In fact, there seems to be as much Democratic traffic down in Florida as there was Republican traffic a few days ago.

But I think somehow he has got to find a way to say to the public don't be impatient about this, you know, don't ask me to leave the playing field when we don't really know who won, counting all the votes is a basic part of our democracy and it's about your rights, too.

I can't imagine that the message is anymore complicated than that, and yet that's a very difficult message to get across in this climate.

BLITZER: And finally, Jeff -- we only have a few seconds before the vice president begins his remarks -- this has got to be a speech that he himself addressed directly. Actually, Jeff, stand by. The vice president is about to speak.

GREENFIELD: OK.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you for taking the time to listen tonight.

Every four years there is one day when the people have their say. In many ways the act of voting and having that vote counted is more important than who wins the majority of the votes that are cast, because whoever wins, the victor will know that the American people have spoken with a voice made mighty by the whole of its integrity.

On that one day every four years, the poor as well as the rich, the week as well as the strong, women and men alike, citizens of every race, creed and color, of whatever infirmity or political temper, all are equal. They're equal, that is, so long as all of their votes are counted.

A vote is not just a piece of paper, a vote is a human voice, a statement of human principle, and we must not let those voices be silenced.

Not for today, not for tomorrow, not for as long as this nation's laws and democratic institutions let us stand and fight to let those voices count.

If the people do not in the end choose me, so be it. The outcome will have been fair, and the people will have spoken. If they choose me, so be it. I would then commit and do commit to bringing this country together. But, whatever the outcome, let the people have their say, and let us listen.

Ignoring votes means ignoring democracy itself. And if we ignore the votes of thousands in Florida in this election, how can you or any American have confidence that your vote will not be ignored in a future election?

That is all we have asked since Election Day: a complete count of all the votes cast in Florida. Not recount after recount as some have charged, but a single, full and accurate count.

We haven't had that yet. Great efforts have been made to prevent the counting of these votes. Lawsuit after lawsuit has been filed to delay the count and to stop the counting for many precious days between Election Day and the deadline for having the count finished.

And this would be over long since, except for those efforts to block the process at every turn.

In one county, election officials brought the count to a premature end in the face of organized intimidation. In a number of counties, votes that had been fairly counted were simply set aside. And many thousands of votes that were cast on Election Day have not yet been counted at all, not once.

There are some who would have us bring this election to the fastest conclusion possible. I have a different view. I believe our Constitution matters more than convenience. So, as provided under Florida law, I have decided to contest this inaccurate and incomplete count, in order to ensure the greatest possible credibility for the outcome.

I agree with something Governor Bush said last night. We need to come together as a country to make progress. But how can we best achieve that? Our country will be stronger, not weaker, if our next president assumes office following a process that most Americans believe is fair.

In all our hands now rest the future of America's faith in our self-government. The American people have shown dignity, restraint and respect as the process has moved forward.

This is America. When votes are cast, we count them. We don't arbitrarily set them aside because it's too difficult to count them.

In the end, in one of God's unforeseen paths, this election may point us all to a new common ground, for its very closeness can serve to remind us that we are one people, with a shared history and a shared destiny.

So this extraordinary moment should summon all of us to become what we profess to be: one indivisible nation. Let us pledge ourselves to the ideal that the people's will should be heard and heeded, and then, together, let us find what is best in ourselves and seek what is best for America.

Two hundred years from now, when future Americans study this presidential election, let them learn that Americans did everything they could to ensure that all citizens who voted had their votes counted. Let them learn that democracy was ultimately placed ahead of partisan politics in resolving a contested election. Let them learn that we were indeed a country of laws.

Thank you. God bless you, and God bless America.

BLITZER: Vice President Al Gore, speaking at the vice president's residence here in Washington.

Jeff Greenfield, if there was any thought that the vice president was about to throw in the towel, he made clear he's ready for this all-out legal battle.

GREENFIELD: He did, but I think it was also interesting as much for what he didn't say as what he did. He didn't say, I'm leading the popular vote, he didn't say, I'm really the victor in Florida. It was not combative except for one line when he talked about organized intimidation.

It was a very high-minded speech, in keeping with his post- election demeanor: calm, almost above the fray. And it will be very interesting to see the impact of this speech in a political process in the words and rhetoric have gotten hotter and hotter.

BLITZER: All right, Jeff Greenfield, thanks for joining us.

Stay with CNN throughout the night for more reaction to Al Gore's address and other developments in the Florida vote.

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