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Election 2000: The Florida Vote

Aired November 28, 2000 - 8:30 p.m. ET


ANNOUNCER: This is a CNN Election 2000 special report.


AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm quite sure that the polls don't matter in this, because it's a legal question.


ANNOUNCER: Al Gore battles in the courts, and in the court of public opinion.


GORE: I believe this is the time to count every vote and not to run out the clock.


ANNOUNCER: But the clock is ticking, and America is watching.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think it should continue. I think he has lost the election.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think Gore should continue. I think if the Supreme Court makes a decision, everybody will feel better.


ANNOUNCER: This is a CNN special report: Election 2000: The Florida Vote.

From Washington, CNN legal analyst Greta Van Susteren.


Before we get to the court of public opinion, we have to again start with trying to sort out election 2000 in the courts.

Here's the latest on all the legal challenges, a very busy day. In Tallahassee, Al Gore's legal team asked a circuit court to order a manual recount of more than 13,000 disputed ballots from Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties. The judge ordered the ballots, voting machines and lawyers to be in his courtroom for a Saturday hearing.

In a separate Tallahassee court, another judge is allowing a Democratic challenge against thousands of absentee ballots from Seminole County to proceed. The Democrats say a Republican Party official illegally tampered with 4,700 ballot applications.

Still in Tallahassee, but over at the Florida Supreme Court, the justices asked for written briefs in a case demanding a revote in Palm Beach County. They have not decided whether to actually hear the case.

In Atlanta, Florida's Democratic Party filed papers with the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, seeking to dismiss a Republican effort to get the hand recounts declared unconstitutional.

And in Washington today, the Bush legal team filed written arguments with the U.S. Supreme Court. The issue: whether the Florida Supreme Court violated federal law when it extended the deadline for certification. The Gore team's legal brief says, among other arguments, that the Supreme Court shouldn't get involved at all.

And when the Supreme Court takes up the issue on Friday, we'll hear something unprecedented: the court will release an audio tape recording of Friday's oral arguments once they're over. It isn't cameras in the courtroom, but for the Supreme Court, even a same-day audio tape is a huge break with tradition. The court says it's taking the step because of the intense public interest in this case.

And in yet one more legal development today, the Bush campaign announced a new lineup of lawyers to take on Al Gore's heavy hitters.

And we're joined from Tallahassee by one of those new lawyers: Daryl Bristow. Daryl, thank you for joining me this evening.


VAN SUSTEREN: Daryl, first of all, why the new lineup?

BRISTOW: Well, I think it's just a matter of a lot more things are happening and the Bush-Cheney team needed some extra help.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is it extra help or different help?

BRISTOW: It's purely extra help. Irv Terrell and I have come in and some of our lawyers are trying to help out with briefing and other activities. We have got now I would say five stand-up lawyers who can appear in one or more courtrooms at any given time, and we are working as an equal team and trying to divvy the work up.

VAN SUSTEREN: What is going to be your job in this new legal team?

BRISTOW: No one has a specific job. I have been spending a little time since I got here looking at the issues of the standards that should govern the court's threshold determinations about whether or not there would be a substitute of a court's opinion for the opinions and exercise of discretion of the election officials, so I may be arguing that on Saturday.

VAN SUSTEREN: I'm curious, Daryl, before you became involved in probably one of the most exciting legal cases any lawyer can get involved in, what did you do and what kind of law did you practice?

BRISTOW: I practiced civil trial law down in Houston, Texas. Jim Baker is one of my partners, and I've been there since 1964 and tried everything from a traffic accident on up to some pretty substantial business cases.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Judge N. Sanders Sauls has ordered a hearing on Saturday. What's going to happen? What do you expect to happen?

BRISTOW: I expect a hearing that will last at least the day. I expect legal arguments and evidence to be presented by both sides, surely for our side. I expect the court to consider the first question, which is whether and under what circumstances a court should substitute its decisions and discretion for the discretion of an election official. I then think we may turn to the issue of the so- called "dimpled ballots" and undervotes or nonvotes, or as the Gore campaign lawyers call them votes.

But it's the ballots and how in the world one is going to divine the intent of a voter on those ballots.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I'm sure you will be very busy. I always like to see judges work on Saturday. I know lawyers always do.

Daryl Bristow, thank you for joining us this evening.

Tonight, we also want to know how long Americans will hang on while the presidential election remains unresolved. More specifically, is Al Gore losing the voters while he fights to count the vote?

CNN's David Mattingly with some background.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Three weeks to the day after the presidential election was turned upside down in Florida, Al Gore still fights to prove he is the winner.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is not a time for delay, obstruction and procedural roadblocks.

MATTINGLY: But as the push for counting votes intensifies, there are strong indications that Gore is losing the voters themselves.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's internationally embarrassing already.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, I voted for Gore, but I think he should stop already. I think that it's dragging on for a while, there's always a margin of error in the election.

MATTINGLY: A CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll Monday showed 62 percent of Americans believe the ballot battle has gone on too long; 56 percent believe the vice president should concede. Fifty-six percent: In political terms, a landslide victory for George W. Bush.

GORE: I'm quite sure that the polls don't matter in this, because it's a legal question.

FRED YANG, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: I think public opinion really hasn't gelled honestly in terms of when they think this should end and where it should end.

MATTINGLY: Fred Yang, a Democratic pollster, tracks changes in public opinion. Current polls suggest that the Bush strategy of claiming victory, focusing on moving into the White House plays well to politically weary Americans.

To stage a turnaround, Yang suggests Gore focus on the single mantra: Every vote should be counted.

YANG: I think that is the strongest leg the Gore campaign is standing on right now, is that here in America we consider the right to vote sacred, but what's also sacred is the fact that every vote counts.

GORE: They're on the ground in Florida...

MATTINGLY: And the Gore counteroffensive is now 24 hours old. Monday morning, he rallies Democratic leadership. Minutes before "Monday Night Football," gore himself addresses the nation.

GORE: Every four years, there is one day when the people have their say.


MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS: Good morning. Let me take you back two nights if I can.


MATTINGLY: And Tuesday morning, Joe Lieberman hits the morning talk circuit: multiple networks, audiences of millions, one recurring message.


SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We just want to make sure that no one can ever come back and say, "You know, this election wasn't quite right, and these votes were not counted."


MATTINGLY: Then Tuesday afternoon, Gore again now directly challenging Bush.

GORE: Let me repeat the essence of our proposal today: seven days starting tomorrow for a full and accurate count of all the votes.

MATTINGLY: A demand for action and an appeal for patience: an attempt to shore up faithful Democratic support.

E.J. DIONNE, "WASHINGTON POST" COLUMNIST: I think as long as there is some reasonable level of support out there, members of -- Democratic members of Congress will stick with him. I think it will take a big, big change for public opinion to have any effect.

MATTINGLY: But with every Gore move, there is a Republican counter, guarding the Bush advantage.

(on camera): In the meantime, questions persist: How long will the public be willing to wait this out? How far will Vice President Gore be able to pursue his challenge before serious harm comes to his political career?

Expect to see more of the vice president in the coming days as he states his case personally in the court of public opinion, the one place a legal team can't help him.

David Mattingly, CNN, Atlanta.


VAN SUSTEREN: Some curious issues raised by David Mattingly, and when we return, we'll bring on people with the answers. Our no-holds- barred discussion -- stay with us.


VAN SUSTEREN: Welcome back to all our viewers from around the world. And joining me here in Washington to explore the effect of public opinion on post-election legal battles are: Jack White, a columnist for "Time" magazine; "Washington Post" columnist E.J. Dionne; and CNN's senior political analyst Bill Schneider.

Bill, first to you. Is Al Gore losing public relations battle?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I wouldn't say he losing it in any definitive way, but he's been slipping recently because people saw the vote certified in Florida. They've heard three counts already in Florida, that Bush was ahead by 300, then by 930, then by 537 and they wonder why is this still going on?

VAN SUSTEREN: Jack, is Vice President Al Gore's enemy or opponent in the public relations battle George W. Bush or is it himself?

JACK WHITE, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Oh, it's actually -- no, I think it's actually the process is his biggest enemy here. I mean, what his strategy is, is to try to stretch time as much as possible while the other side is trying to run the clock out. And the speech he made today was designed really to try to give him some cover while his superstar team of lawyers tries to get some of those votes counted and tries to get it leaked out that he's actually gaining ground on Mr. Bush, and by that way convincing the public that maybe if these counts continue to the end maybe he'll overtake him.

VAN SUSTEREN: E.J., is there something wrong with this strategy.

E.J. DIONNE, "THE WASHINGTON POST": No, I think that makes sense. In fact, just going to public opinion. If you take the CNN numbers, 56 percent against Gore doing this. Well, George Bush got 49 percent. So what you've really got is 40 percent of Gore's whole vote is still with him, 7 percent against him. That's a five-to-one margin among Gore supporters. That's enough to hold him for a couple of weeks. If this were months and months that we were talking about, public opinion would be huge. I don't think it's that huge.

I agree with Jack on this. I think Gore needs a very simple message. I think some of the general stuff about every vote counts is really not compelling enough. I think what he really needs to say is look, 10,700 ballots that may have vote on them, what is wrong with looking at them?

And I think he started today to say, I'm not the guy slowing this down. George Bush is the guy going to court to try to slow this process, impede count. If we could look at these ballots and figure out are there votes on them, we could settle this thing. And I think he needs a kind of crisp, clear argument like that if he's going to sustain his position.

WHITE: You know, actually, the people in the other side, the Bush folks, may be playing into Gore's hands to a certain extent. You know, they seem to be so impatient, so ready to bring this process to a close, it raises the question about whether they're afraid that if all the votes are counted, they may lose.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bill, what matters most to the public?

SCHNEIDER: Well, I think the public understands, Greta, two big things. Number one, there is no such thing as an error-free count. In fact, whether it's by hand or by machine, the margin of error in the count is likely to be greater than the margin of victory. And number two, this election was so close it could have gone either way, so there is no obviously just outcome.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know though, Bill, you say that the public understands the margin of error -- frankly, I must confess I was a little bit surprised at what trouble they had in Florida, at least seemingly so, at counting the ballots. I thought it was a little bit better, so at least this public was a little surprised.

SCHNEIDER: Yes. I mean, we heard a couple of people in the Mattingly piece a few minutes ago say, well, you know, we know that there is going to be errors, that the count is not going to be completely accurate, and I think they have a sense that the margin of error is so -- the margin of victory in this is likely to be so thin that you just have to go with the best count you can make.

Now, Gore is making the argument that there are uncounted ballots out there, and the Bush campaign is complaining because their view is, well, those ballots were counted, they were counted twice by machine. And the Gore campaign wants them recounted now by hand, and they have to make the case that that's going to be more accurate and it's also got to be considered fair to do that in Miami-Dade County and not in other places.

WHITE: This is where this whole dispute, or battle for the minds of the public is almost like a kindergarten wrestling match in some ways, because they're both using the same word almost as though they were a couple of, you know, 1st graders out in the school yard yelling, he did it, no, he did it.

One side says the votes haven't been counted. By that they mean that they have not been hand counted. The other side says they have been counted. By that they mean they've been counted by a machine. It would be very helpful to the public if both sides would say exactly what they are talking about instead of using the same word to mean two very different things.

VAN SUSTEREN: Jack, are they being slippery?

WHITE: Of course they're being slippery. They're trying their best to sway public opinion by blurring the issues. Now, this, of course, is characteristic of what -- the reason why we're in this mess is because we had a campaign where both candidates were more interested in blurring the issues sometimes than they were in trying to discuss them.

SCHNEIDER: You know, Greta, I think Al Gore has one big problem, and it's not public opinion. I think E.J. is exactly right. The public is likely to stick with him for a couple more weeks. The problem is the deadlines, the calendar. It's a very serious problem. This all has to be done in a little over two weeks and I don't know that's -- how that's going to happen given the legal process that you understand very well.

VAN SUSTEREN: One thing is -- we're going to be working on Saturday for one thing, because we are going to have a hearing on Saturday.

But we're going to take a break, and when we come back, my guests and I will return and we'll discuss the issues. Stay with us.


VAN SUSTEREN: Welcome back to our discussion about the post- election battle over public opinion. My guests are "Time" magazine columnist Jack White, "Washington Post" columnist E.J. Dionne, and CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider.

E.J., first to you. If President Bill Clinton suddenly got dropped into Florida and it was his problem and not Vice President Al Gore's, could he pull it off? How would he do it? DIONNE: I guess the general view is Bill Clinton could pull off almost anything, so I think just on principle I'd have to say yes. I guess the -- my hunch is that Clinton would tell a lot more stories than Al Gore is telling. I that think problem with a kind of generalized argument is it sounds like politician talking, whereas if you talk about individual voters who lost their votes and also just some of the core facts of the case.

There were seven times more of those blank votes in Miami-Dade County than there are in counties that used more voter friendly systems and think there's way you can say, you know, sure, I want to win this. And I think Gore shouldn't say, well, this isn't about me. Of course, it's about him, but, you know, sure I want to win this.

But the evidence is pretty clear that there's something wrong in these ballots and what the world is wrong with looking at them, and I think Bill Clinton would kind of personalize it and make a very direct argument on those kind of facts.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bill, what about President Clinton? What do you think? How he would handle it?

SCHNEIDER: There'd be a lot more hugging, and there'd be a lot more upset voters with Clinton standing there telling very dramatic stories about how they got confused by the ballot and how they weren't able to push a hole through the punch card and they didn't understand what was going on and nobody would explain anything and there'd be story after story and Bill Clinton would just simply put it the American people, should these people be disenfranchised?

VAN SUSTEREN: Jack, you want to take a stab at that?

WHITE: Well, I think the main thing is I'd think you'd see an exact reverse of public opinion is in that case. Gore really has a very difficult time connecting with people, especially by television, and Clinton for whatever problems you may have with him, you have to acknowledge that he was master of connecting over television and in person with people and I think he would have certainly have turned this into an emotional story and it would have been a heck of a lot easier for people to visualize the way that people were done out of their vote in several -- many cases in Florida.

VAN SUSTEREN: E.J., how's Governor Bush doing in the PR war?

DIONNE: I think mixed. I think that by claiming victory he is sort of slowly wearing Gore down. In the old Middle East phrase, he's creating facts on the ground trying to look like a president. On the other hand, I think he missed such a big opportunity in that speech on Sunday. Instead of giving some sense to Democrats, look, I understand -- Bill Clinton would have done this too -- I understand why you feel the way you feel.

He didn't give them anything. Indeed, he was basically saying, Al Gore really isn't a good guy unless he drops out of this race. That really angered a lot of Democrats, and I think the way Republicans have played this, they've done something Al Gore could never do. The Republicans and I think that Bush speech have united Democrats behind Al Gore.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bill, is either one of them, in the public's opinion presidential? Does either one of them look presidential and what does it mean to be or look presidential?

SCHNEIDER: You look presidential when you become president. I mean, that's been the case for every president I know, including Jimmy Carter. Ronald Reagan, I suppose, is the one who kind of looked presidential before he became president. But once they assume the office, suddenly everything is transformed, and that creates issue here because this is -- there's no honeymoon going on.

In fact, there's a bad -- a bitter aftertaste in this election that could poison relationships between the new president. A lot of people in the public -- a majority of Republicans right now say if Gore is designated as winner and he gets inaugurated, right now they say they wouldn't accept him as a legitimate president. That bitterness is going to be there and a lot of members of Congress say they'd refuse to work with him.

And there's a number of Democrats that feel the same way about George Bush. So the honeymoon for to the new president that makes him look presidential is really being denied for both of these guys.

VAN SUSTEREN: Jack, what about an exit strategy. Right now, I suppose since Florida has declared that Governor Bush is the winner that Vice President Al Gore must at least sort of, even though he says he's the winner, that at least there must be exit strategy being considered at least by Al Gore. What should that exit strategy be?

WHITE: You know, I -- that's a really good question. I really don't have a good answer for you. All I know is when he finally does bow out and when the other guy does -- what do you call it -- claim credit for victory, they're going to have a lot of flags behind them. That's for sure something they're going to because that evidently is how you look presidential in the United States right now is by standing in front of a lot of American flags. I have no idea how this thing is going to end. I have no idea when it's going end.

VAN SUSTEREN: And we have no idea who's going to be the winner, but that's all the time we have for our discussion. Many thanks to my guests: Jack White, a columnist for "Time" magazine; "Washington Post" columnist E.J. Dionne; and CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider.

Earlier, we talked with Daryl Bristow, who's a member of the Bush campaign's new line-up of lawyers, a team that CNN's Mike Boettcher described today as "Boies Killers," aimed at defeating the Gore legal team led by David Boies. It all brings back memories of legal "dream teams" who became household names.

Tonight's case study: some big-name lawyers of high-profile cases past. Perhaps the dream team by which all others will be judged: the attorneys from the O.J. Simpson murder trial. From left to right: Uelmen, Douglas, Bailey, Cochran, Shapiro & Blasier. And we can't forget Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, even though they didn't make the photo.

And then, there's president Clinton's dream team. Greg Craig, David Kendall, and the late Charles Ruff, among others, who fought the impeachment. Prosecutors have dream teams, too. From the Microsoft antitrust case: Joel Klein, David Boies and Stephen Houck.

And now my take on big-name lawyers. Aside from Perry Mason, not many attorneys get to be household names. But these legal dream teams are about much more than big money and big egos. It's always exciting to watch a clash of titans, each side putting its best warriors on the front line, fighting in history-making cases.

For us, in the world's greatest democracy, it means that rights on both sides will be protected and preserved. And, of course, that movie rights will follow.

I want to hear from you about big-name lawyers and high-profile cases. Drop me an e-mail. The address is, one word: That's one word askgreta. And with the help of my dream team here at CNN, we'll read them all. That's all for tonight. I'm Greta Van Susteren in Washington and stay tuned for "LARRY KING LIVE" in just a minute. Larry's guests include vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney and Warren Christopher. Good night.



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