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Inside Politics

Gore and Bush Legal Teams Get Set for Their Day in Florida Supreme Court; Recounts Continue in Several Counties Despite GOP Complaints

Aired November 19, 2000 - 8:00 p.m. ET



SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: The truth is nobody knows how it will turn out. The point here -- of course we want to win, but the point is of principle.


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: The Gore and Bush camps prepare to take their presidential ballot battle before the Florida Supreme Court. We'll look ahead to tomorrow's arguments and review the latest political shots.


GOVERNOR MARC RACICOT (R), MONTANA: New information has come to light that further demonstrates the inherent flaws in this very subjective and very unreliable process.


WOODRUFF: We'll have an update on those controversial hand recounts and how they are being conducted.

Plus: the candidates today, and public opinion about them. We'll roll out new poll numbers.

ANNOUNCER: This is a special edition of INSIDE POLITICS with Judy Woodruff in Washington.

WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us.

2:00 p.m. tomorrow in Tallahassee, Florida will, effectively, be high noon for Al Gore and George W. Bush. That is when the state Supreme Court will hear arguments for and against allowing hand recounts to be included in Florida's final presidential vote total. This evening, the justices refused to allow Florida's secretary of state to separately argue her side of the dispute.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick reports on the latest legal wrangling and what it may mean for tomorrow's confrontation in court.


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was Governor George Bush's turn to file papers Sunday, his attorneys laying out their case in a 48-page brief, arguing that any vote- tallies not submitted by Florida's November 14 deadline should not be included in the state's final total.

Bush's lawyers say that any county that needed to check ballots by hand should have done so by that deadline, and they back Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who last week said she would consider no new vote counts.

KATHERINE HARRIS, FLORIDA SECRETARY OF STATE: I have decided it is my duty under Florida law to exercise my discretion in denying these requested amendments.

FEYERICK: In their brief, the Bush team says -- quote -- "The secretary's conduct was reasoned and reasonable, and was perfectly consistent, indeed mandated by the laws of Florida."

The Gore-team replied to the Republican brief, saying Harris, as co-chair of George Bush's presidential campaign in Florida, could not be unbiased, they say, as seen in her efforts to block the recounts.

Harris had asked for time during Monday's two-hour oral argument to speak as an unbiased party. The Supreme Court denied her request. A court spokesman says the seven justices have basically cleared their schedules in order to rule quickly.

CRAIG WATERS, FLORIDA SUPREME COURT SPOKESMAN: The court has expedited this case. If you noticed when the District Court of Appeal, which is Florida's intermediate appellate court, certified the case, they used language from Florida's Constitution, and that language is that this is a case of great public importance, requiring immediate resolution by the Florida Supreme Court. The court takes the word "immediate" seriously, so this case has the court's highest priority right now.

FEYERICK: Meantime, the seven Supreme Court justices reviewed the legal arguments over the weekend.


FEYERICK: When the judges walk in to that courtroom on Monday, they will know all the facts of this case. Even so, a court spokesman says it is impossible to guess just how long it will take them to decide whether or not the outstanding hand recounts should count -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And, Deborah, refresh us again on what the procedures are tomorrow before the court.

FEYERICK: Effectively what will happen is each side has one hour to lay out their oral argument. Because they are the petitioners, the attorneys for Vice President Gore will go first. The Bush team then has an opportunity to present their oral argument. If the Gore folks do not eat up their entire hour, then they will have whatever time is left over for a rebuttal argument after that happens.

And again, the justices can ask as many questions as they want, so even if this is scheduled to go for about two hours, it certainly could go later if, in fact, the judges have outstanding questions.

WOODRUFF: All right, CNN's Deborah Feyerick in Tallahassee, thanks very much.

Well, now to those hand recounts at the center of the state Supreme Court showdown. The process goes on, at this hour, in Palm Beach County. Election officials there are trying to get through half of the precincts by tonight. Ballot counters in Broward County have stopped work for the evening. And, in Miami-Dade County, machine sorting of ballots in preparation for a hand recount have ended for the day.

But Republican complaints about that process are continuing tonight.

CNN's Charles Zewe has more on those counties and the Florida standoff.


CHARLES ZEWE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Using counting machines to save time, so-called "undervotes," punch-card ballots on which no vote for president was found, were culled from ballots cast in Miami-Dade County. Election officials say among the county's 653,000 total votes are 10,750 undervotes that will now be examined to see what voters intended.

Democrats predict undervotes will be a treasure trove of votes for Vice President Al Gore. Republicans, however, charge the sorting has shaved countless new chads from ballots, increasing the number of illegal ballots with more than one vote for president.

REP. JOHN SWEENEY (R), NEW YORK: Saw thousands of chads, thousands of chads on the floor, which suggests that the ballots are further being damaged and the integrity of this process is to be called into question.

ZEWE: Election officials deny that and say those ballots weren't damaged.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If a chad falls off, it doesn't make it any less or more of a vote, the vote already existed.

ZEWE: A GOP request to photograph alleged ballot mishandling from inside the tabulation room was turned down by the canvassing board in Miami. A state judge also refused a Republican request to stop the sorting, though Republicans say they'll be back in court to try to stop the Miami recount.

In Broward County, where Gore has so far picked up 93 votes in the recount, Republicans accused the Broward Canvassing Board of bending to political pressure by easing standards for considering whether a ballot counts. The board had been throwing out ballots that did not have two corners poked out of the chad. The board says it will now consider ballots with a dimple or one-corner chad after a county attorney said the stricter standard would probably not have held up in court anyway.

And in neighboring Palm Beach County, Canvassing Board Chairman Charles Burton defended recounters against charges of disarray and sloppiness.

JUDGE CHARLES BURTON, PALM BEACH CANVASSING BOARD: Despite the allegations of widespread problems, they simply don't exist.

ZEWE: Recount officials estimate half the ballots in both Palm Beach and Broward Counties have been hand counted so far.

Charles Zewe, CNN, Miami.


WOODRUFF: Democrats are hoping those hand recounts will help Al Gore overcome George W. Bush's current lead of 930 votes in Florida. Bush gained ground yesterday when counties tallied overseas absentee ballots. Now, that process also has been marked by partisan charges and countercharges.

And, as CNN's Gene Randall explains, the bickering continued today.


GENE RANDALL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Of the 3,626 overseas absentee ballots received, county election officials in Florida rejected 1,420 of them, many from the military. Among the reasons cited: many of those ballots did not have postmarks.

But under federal law, the post office is required to deliver military ballots free of postage, so the U.S. Postal Service never marked them. The military uses its own postmarks when possible, but it doesn't always happen.

The Bush campaign and its allies blamed the high rejection rate on Democrats, charging them with aggressively challenging the overseas ballots in Friday's count.

RACICOT: And I am very sorry to say, but the vice president's lawyers have gone to war, in my judgment, against the men and women who serve in our armed forces.

RANDALL: Sunday, Al Gore's running mate, Senator Joseph Lieberman called the charges unfair.

LIEBERMAN: They're unfair both to our campaign, which would never have a policy aimed at disqualifying military voters, but they are also unfair to the local election officials in the counties around Florida, most of whom I think are Republicans, who made the decision to disqualify those ballots. RANDALL: The rejection of military ballots without postmarks troubled even some within the Clinton administration. Traveling in Saudi Arabia, Defense Secretary William Cohen, a Republican, said -- quote -- "The last thing we want to do is make it harder for those wearing our uniform and serving overseas to be able to cast a ballot."

The Bush campaign charges that up to 1,100 military ballots were rejected, and that the vast majority would have gone to George W. Bush. But even if the Democrats did aggressively go after the ballots, they have plenty of cover, ironically from a Republican. In a November 13 press release, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris reminded election workers that only postmarked ballots should be accepted.

Gene Randall, CNN, Atlanta.


WOODRUFF: We're joined now by our legal analyst Greta Van Susteren of CNN's "BURDEN OF PROOF," she joins us from Tallahassee.

Greta, where do these complaints over the weekend about the undercounting of military ballots, about the mishandling during the hand recounts, where do these go, where do they end up?

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, what happens is the individual county canvassing boards have the duty to determine whether or not someone votes and that includes when we talk about the dimpled, pregnant chads, they're supposed to determine whether or not there is a vote, but also any instance of absentee ballots, they look at very specific rules and see whether or not the absentee ballots have met those particular rules.

So the buck stops with the canvassing board in the individual counties, and of course, now we have the dispute involving what Gene Randall just talked about, where we have the instance where we have some military -- some ballots from -- absentee ballots from military bases, and military bases often don't have the postmark stamp, which is a technical defect. And whether or not that vote will be counted, that will probably be a problem for the local county canvassing board, the buck will probably stop there.

WOODRUFF: Greta, it's my understanding that in the arguments that have been filed already with the state Supreme Court that the Bush campaign has not necessarily included these arguments in their case. Can they add this sort of material at the last minute?

VAN SUSTEREN: No. What the Supreme Court is looking at is a single issue or a group of issues that was presented to the trial court judge in Leon County here in Tallahassee, and really the issue here are twofold: first is the secretary of state says that a hand- count recount is not available when you just have a tabulation problem, she says a very narrow instance in which the law will permit a hand count, for instance, an act of God, an equipment malfunction, or if there is a power outage. The Democratic side says she reads the law too narrowly and that a hand count does -- that you can have a hand count in certain instances when you have simply a tabulation problem, which is what we are seeing in the various counties, or at least an allegation of it.

Secondly, what the secretary of state says and what the Supreme Court will be looking at tomorrow is the issue about even if hand counts are permitted in this instance, when you have a tabulation problem, not an equipment problem, or a power outage, or an act of God, does she have to consider them in light of the fact that at 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, just the other day, the counties were supposed to report their ballots and did report. She says that was a deadline, if the counties wanted to do the manual recount, they should have done it within the first seven days, now it's too late.

The Democrats say that could not possibly be the law since the legislature gave the counties the authority to do these manual recounts, certainly, the counties must have anticipated it would take more than seven days. It's the Florida Supreme Court that's going to have to sort this one out -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And just quickly, Greta, in a situation like this, should we expect a pretty quick ruling by the state Supreme Court?

VAN SUSTEREN: That's reading the tea leaves. But I will tell you, I talked to the public informations officer, who is also a lawyer for the Florida Supreme Court, and he told me the Florida Supreme Court is well aware of the fact that Thanksgiving is coming up on Thursday, and typically the Florida Supreme Court issues its orders and its decisions at -- on Thursdays at 10:00 -- don't expect it this Thursday at 10:00, because it's Thanksgiving, but we may get it sooner. The public information officer didn't know when we'd get it, but he did assure me that the Florida Supreme Court realizes that the entire country is eager for a final answer on this.

WOODRUFF: Yes, indeed. Greta Van Susteren, thanks very much, and we'll see you tomorrow.

Coming up next: the spin from the Bush and Gore camps on the eve of their clash in Florida's Supreme Court.

Stay with us for the latest on the men still fighting to win the White House.


WOODRUFF: On this day before the Florida Supreme Court hears their cases, Al Gore and George W. Bush made some brief appearances in public, but they left it to their surrogates to duke it out again on national television.

First to the Bush camp, and CNN's Jeanne Meserve in Austin, Texas -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Judy, the Bush campaign is certainly not sitting and waiting quietly for the Florida Supreme Court to rule. The governor himself made no public comment, although he did go jogging today and go to church with his wife Laura. But his surrogates were everywhere and they were outspoken, and the Sunday talk shows were not enough.

Governor Marc Racicot, the Montana governor, summoned reporters this afternoon to slam the Democrats for, he said, changing the rules in the middle of the recounts in order to garner more votes for Al Gore. He was particularly critical of Broward County officials, who, he said, had changed their mind, reversed themselves and decided to count unpunched dimpled ballots.


RACICOT: Make no mistake about what's going on here: When Vice President Gore's Broward County supporters saw Governor Bush's gain in the overseas ballots, they changed the rules so that they could manufacture additional Gore votes. It's wrong, it's flawed, and it is a process that is simply and honestly not worthy of our democracy.


MESERVE: Racicot said he seen better standards at a zoning hearing, but he was certainly not the only Bush surrogate on the airwaves today: we saw former Senator Bob Dole, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Senator Fred Thompson, former Attorney General Dick Thornburg (ph), they were all on the air putting new spin and giving new examples to the now-old argument that the hand-recount process is flawed and that the Democrats are trying to undermine the process.

However, there was one Republican who had a different point of view, former Senator Howard Baker said of the current situation -- quote -- "This is idiocy. The country simply should not have to go through that" --Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Jeanne Meserve reporting from Austin, thanks very much.

And we are joined now by someone Jeanne mentioned, former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole. And I would just mention that a little bit later we're going to get a Democratic perspective from former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell.

BOB DOLE (R), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I can cover for George, too, if he is busy.

WOODRUFF: All right, well, we'll think about that. He may not agree.

Senator Dole, what about this comment from Howard Baker? He said, "This is idiocy. The country shouldn't have to put up with this any longer."

DOLE: Well, I didn't hear the comment, but I think what he's probably alluding to -- I mean, election night, George Bush was ahead, then they did a machine recount and he was still ahead, now they have counted the absentees and he's still ahead, and I would guess that Senator Baker -- former Senator Baker thinks it's probably over, and they keep changing the rules, county by county, precinct by precinct, in three heavily-Democratic counties, and I think it's beginning to hurt. I don't put much focus...

WOODRUFF: Beginning to hurt what?

DOLE: The Gore team. I don't put a lot of focus on polls, but tonight I heard about a poll that showed Bush still negative about 25 percent in the way he handled this, and Gore had gone up to 40-some percent negative. So I think the people are beginning to understand you just can't keep changing, they know that in these three counties, eight out of the nine people who control it are Democrats, one sole Republican in three counties.

WOODRUFF: Are you saying that it's just the Gore people who are responsible for prolonging this?

DOLE: Well, they are the ones asking for the manual recount. I mean, they've had a machine recount, they've had all the absentees in. I would hope somebody would step in, the secretary of defense or somebody, and defend the military, because they threw out about 40 percent of overseas ballots and most of those I would think were military ballots.

WOODRUFF: But we now know that the secretary of state had said that, that was part of her requirement, that the ballots have a postmark on them.

DOLE: Right. Well, I heard two different reports on that, we had a report from some commander saying a postmark wasn't necessary. But in any event, how do you get a postmark out in the middle of the ocean somewhere?

WOODRUFF: Is -- if the Florida Supreme Court rules in the next few days that the hand recount should go forward properly and should be included in the total, should the Bush camp challenge that, or should they accept it?

DOLE: Well, I'll leave that up to the strategists, I'm not on the strategy team.

WOODRUFF: Well, what would you do in those circumstances?

DOLE: Well, you know, I hope the court looks at how many changes have taken place in these three counties and how they've changed, like, in Broward County, now they are going to go back and have another re-recount. I mean, how many times do you count the ballots? And it seems to me that we have had a fair recount. We have had a machine recount. I would hope that they would say, secretary of state did not abuse her discretion and Bush wins by 930 votes.

WOODRUFF: So you are saying that the election officials in these counties should be suspect for their partisan involvements...

DOLE: Well, you know, I don't want to use that word "suspect."

WOODRUFF: ... because they are the people who are overseeing this?

DOLE: Well, yes, there are some, I think, are suspect, but I would hope -- there are a lot of good people in politics and we have different labels, but if I'm an outsider looking at it objectively -- or NBC is going to judge CNN's content -- you might be a little -- you know, you might wonder about that. So when you have eight out of nine are Democrats in these three big counties, you kind of wonder, is this going to be fair? And it's probably not going to be fair.

WOODRUFF: But we are told there is a Republican and a Democrat overseeing the counting of all these ballots -- the recounting of these ballots.

DOLE: Well, yes, and then they put them in a third stack and then sooner or later they're going to decide how to count this third stack, and it's going to be 2-1, and in one county, I guess, 3-zip, I guess.

WOODRUFF: Some -- there was someone who I saw quoted today saying this whole exercise is going to turn out to be good for democracy in the end. Do you see it that way?

DOLE: It may. I don't know, it could be. I mean, I don't think we are in a crisis. I mean, it seems to me that the last crisis we had was when Nixon resigned and President Ford came in and pardoned Nixon and set up a clemency board for Vietnam deserters, that was a real crisis you. But I think people are tiring of it, I would hope by Thanksgiving we'll have an answer.

WOODRUFF: So by Thursday, even though the recounts would take longer than that, the hand recounts?

DOLE: Well, my hope is that the Supreme Court will look at it and say she followed the law, we agree with the circuit judge, a Democrat, and certify -- let her certify the vote. And then it's up to Mr. Gore and his attorneys to decide whether they want to go further, they can still go on. I mean, either side -- I don't know where the end game is, maybe Senator Mitchell, who was a federal judge, who follows me, will have those fine points, but I think there is a great deal of politics now, public relations, and it seems to me that President-elect Bush should be certified and we'll move on.

WOODRUFF: All right, Senator Bob Dole, good to see you again, thanks very much.

DOLE: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: We appreciate you being here.

And up next, to the Democratic presidential hopeful, Al Gore -- he's still in the running, of course. A look at the campaign's latest strategy.

Plus, we will talk with former Senator George Mitchell.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WOODRUFF: As his legal team prepares for tomorrow's court battle, Vice President Al Gore remained near his residence in Washington today.

As Chris Black reports, Gore's low profile was mirrored by his campaign's efforts to dial back the political rhetoric.


CHRIS BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the eve of a critical hearing before Florida's highest court, the Gore campaign is deliberately lowering the decibel level.

LIEBERMAN: We don't want one ballot unfairly, but we don't want one ballot that should be counted not to be counted.

BLACK: The Gore team sent out its low-key vice presidential candidate to make its case on all the Sunday morning talk shows and deny GOP charges the Democrats tried to throw out the ballots of overseas military personnel.

As for the vice president, he canceled a long-scheduled trip to Tennessee, unwilling to be pulled into a political tit-for-tat. He stayed close to home, jogging with his wife Tipper and only leaving the official residence for church.

Gore advisers say Republicans are making a mistake by raising the political rhetoric before the Supreme Court of Florida makes a decision on including the hand-tabulated results in the final tally. Gore operatives remain convinced Gore can pick up enough votes in a hand count to overcome George W. Bush's 930-vote lead.

In Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade Counties, the voting machines did not record votes in the presidential contest on almost 28,000 ballots.

DOUG HATTAWAY, GORE CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN: The machines failed to count thousands of peoples' votes, that's why we're here.

BLACK: In its case to the Florida Supreme Court, the Gore campaign is also arguing for a uniform standard for judging ballots, one that reflects the intent of the voter. The Florida Supreme Court ruled three times in favor of the Gore position last week, so Gore lawyers hope those preliminary rulings are a sign of things to come.

DAVID BOIES, GORE CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: I think it's very unlikely that the Florida Supreme Court would have directed that these recounts go forward if all they meant was to do was to preserve the votes for history.


BLACK: The Gore camp says further legal action to resolve other ballot disputes is very much on the table, but privately, officials concede an adverse ruling from Florida's Supreme Court would deal a mortal blow to Al Gore's presidential hopes -- Judy. WOODRUFF: All right, Chris Black reporting, thanks very much.

And joining us now, as promised, former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, of course, a supporter of Vice President Gore.

Senator Mitchell, thank you for being with us.

Would you agree with that assessment there at the end of Chris Black's report, that an adverse ruling by the Florida Supreme Court tomorrow would pretty much be the end of it for the vice president?

GEORGE MITCHELL (D), FMR. SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Well, of course, it depends upon what the court says and what the circumstances are at that time, but plainly, an adverse ruling for either side won't be helpful to them.

WOODRUFF: What I mean, could -- the Gore camp could surely appeal it in some manner, would you think -- in your opinion, is that the right way for them to go?

MITCHELL: Well, of course, since you don't know what the court is going to say, it's premature to speculate on what the reaction should be. And I think if there is one thing we ought to have learned in the last two weeks, it's that predicting the future in this matter is very difficult, we all ought to be humble about speculating on what's going to happen.


Senator, what about these new allegations over the weekend on the part of the Bush camp, ballots have been mishandled, chads all over the floor, in every which way they are saying that this process is flawed and partisan. We just heard Senator Dole saying you can't -- in so many words saying you really can't trust hand counting in three counties that are majority Democratic.

MITCHELL: Well, I'd make several points. First, of course, any allegations of impropriety should be promptly investigated.

Second, however, there have been partial hand counts in seven counties, six of them controlled by Republicans. In one of them, half the precincts were counted by hand, in the others, the ballots that were rejected by the machines were counted by hand. Governor Bush gained substantially in the aggregate in those counties, so having received the benefit of partial hand recounts, it now seems to me inconsistent to say, well, nobody else can hand recount.

Third, I think it's quite clear part of the Bush campaign strategy has been to wage an aggressive campaign to discredit the hand-recount process right from the very beginning, so no one should be surprised at allegations now that it's somehow improper. The reality is that hand recounts are appropriate under law of most states, including the state of Texas, and therefore, I think the best way to go forward is to have those recounts.

WOODRUFF: So has this, in effect, just boiled down to another partisan -- one more partisan argument in this endless election?

MITCHELL: Well, I don't think it's an endless election, it's gone on longer than anyone anticipated, but I think it will soon be brought to a close. And the reality is that it was a very close election in Florida and in the country, and both sides are pursuing their points of view. That may be described as partisan, as indeed it is, but the reality is that the public are entitled to a full, fair and accurate count. There is a desire for speed and finality in election results, there is also the desire for fairness and accuracy, and I think that's going to be reconciled soon.

WOODRUFF: But when we have people like Governor Racicot of Montana, Senator Dole just now, individuals who are, you know, highly respected in the political process, as you are, they are making, you know, in a sense -- not very serious -- I almost used the word "inflammatory," I'm not going to say that -- but very, very serious charges about what is going on in the democratic process down in Florida.

What are we to make of these allegations?

MITCHELL: Well, Senator Dole is a very good friend of mine. We work together, and we just happen to disagree on this. I think those who make such allegations have the burden of coming forward with the evidence. What is the evidence of this, so that there can be a proper inquiry as to whether or not the -- but let's be clear about this, machine ballots, machine counting occurs in private, out of public view.

There is some sense that it must be accurate because it's a machine, but in fact, the machine counts in these punch-ballot methods are not accurate and they do produce -- they do leave out a lot of people whose votes should be counted. Human counting, it's in the open, and sure there are going to be disputes, but it is demonstrably more fair, more thorough, and more accurate, and I think we ought to proceed on that basis while looking into these allegations, but keep in mind the context in which these allegations are being made.

WOODRUFF: All right, former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, we thank you very much.

MITCHELL: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Thank you very much for joining us.

And there is still much more ahead on this special Sunday edition of INSIDE POLITICS.

Just ahead: the presidential race and public opinion. Our Bill Schneider with the latest measure of America's patience.



BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They are the seven men and women who may help decide the presidential election.


WOODRUFF: Brian Cabell on the Florida justices who will weigh the political arguments.

And later...


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You can't blame either one of them for making the strongest case they can. This is not a crisis in the American system of government, because it will come to an end, it will come to an end in plenty of time for the new president to take the oath of office.


WOODRUFF: President Clinton on watching the race from abroad, his perspective on the Florida standoff.


WOODRUFF: It seems likely that at this hour, lawyers for George W. Bush and Al Gore still are working on the arguments they will present to the Florida Supreme Court beginning at 2:00 p.m. tomorrow. While Bush stayed in Texas today, his attorneys filed a brief with the Florida high court, laying out their claim that the results of late hand recounts should not be included in Florida's final presidential vote tally. And while Gore relaxed in Washington, his lawyers filed a reply claiming that Florida's Republican secretary of state could not decide the matter without political bias.

Those hand recounts continued, meanwhile, in Palm Beach and Broward Counties today, while Miami-Dade County sorted ballots by machine in preparation for its full hand recount, which is expected to begin tomorrow.

The timetable for all this would certainly seem to be a factor as we considering how long Americans are willing to wait to learn who the next president will be.

Our Bill Schneider joins us now with some new poll numbers.

And, Bill, tell us, how is the country holding up?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Very well, thank you. Better than we are, I would say. How is this for an indicator? The percentage of Americans who call the undecided election a major problem has gone down -- that's right -- down over the past week. No panic in the streets; some exasperation, however.

Just over half the public say they'd be willing to wait at least a little while longer for a final resolution. How much longer? Well, just over half say they are willing to wait until Thanksgiving, that's four more days. After another month, two-thirds say enough already. WOODRUFF: All right, what about a full hand recount of the Florida ballots, what are they saying about this?

SCHNEIDER: Well, I'd put it this way, they are willing to go along with a hand recount. Actually, a machine recount is perfectly acceptable to Americans, a solid majority says a machine count is more accurate than a hand count. Those pictures have not inspired confidence in the hand recount process, all that nasty chad. Then, how do people feel about Gore's legal action to require the hand recount to be included in the final vote totals? Well, that's OK with most people, two counts are better than one. The message here is a machine count is acceptable. A hand recount would provide more confidence -- whatever. Because in the end, nearly 80 percent say it will never be possible to get a completely accurate count of all the votes in Florida.

WOODRUFF: Bill, at this point, does either candidate, Bush or Gore, have an advantage with the public?

SCHNEIDER: Judy, Bush has a slight advantage right now. Just over half approve of the way Bush and his advisers are handling this situation. In fact, more people approve than disapprove of the way Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris is handling the situation, the woman the Democrats have been trying to demonize.

Just under half approve of the way Gore and his advisers are handling things. Now, here is the likely reason: almost 60 percent of Americans say it bothers them that court decisions may determine the final outcome. Gore seems to be relying more on the courts and people don't like that.

WOODRUFF: Well, has it reached the point, Bill, where Americans are indicating they will not accept the legitimacy of whoever the winner is here?

SCHNEIDER: Well, no, Judy, actually it hasn't, and that's important. Eighty percent say if Al Gore is declared the winner, they would accept him as the legitimate president; 86 percent say they would accept George W. Bush. But here is something interesting: only a quarter of Gore supporters say they would refuse to accept Bush; more than 40 percent of Bush supporters say they would refuse to accept Al Gore. That means it's going to be much harder to reconcile Republicans to Gore than to reconcile Democrats to George Bush.

WOODRUFF: By about 15 percent.


WOODRUFF: All right, Bill Schneider, thanks very much, we appreciate it.

And still ahead, Florida's high court prepares to weigh in on the recount controversy. We'll take a look at the justices who are on the bench.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WOODRUFF: With a showdown on Florida's election quagmire scheduled tomorrow before the state Supreme Court, those seven justices could have a great impact on the outcome of the presidential race.

CNN's Brian Cabell takes a closer look at these key figures in the Sunshine State's legal battle.


CABELL (voice-over): They are the seven men and women who may help decide the presidential election.

STEVEN UHLFELDER, FLORIDA ATTORNEY: I think it's a moderate court, and I think they're independent, and I think they're very, very smart.

CABELL: Smart, yes, almost everyone agrees on that. But since Democratic governors appointed all of them, including Justice Peggy Quince, whom Governor Jeb Bush did sign-off on, Republicans worry the court may lean toward the Democrats.

THOM RUMBERGER, FLORIDA ATTORNEY: I tell you what, I'd be hard- pressed to find what I would call a conservative on there.

CABELL: Some observers believe that Chief Justice Charles Wells, who's been known to frequently dissent on court decisions, might be the most conservative or moderate justice. They point to Justice Major Harding, as well, he was a Republican when he was appointed in 1991; now he's an independent. Most agree Justice Leander Shaw, the longest-serving justice, is probably the most liberal.

But as one observer put it, the court has been occasionally unpredictable, particularly on the death penalty.

MARTIN DYCKMAN, "ST. PETERSBURG TIMES": They've upheld some sentences that you would think they would not and reversed others. They have consistently supported it, but they have ruled against the governor and the legislature on some key procedural issues.

CABELL: On other issues, observers say, the court has been increasingly activist.

RUMBERGER: Well, they're very active in these constitutional amendments that are proposed, propositions that are set forth, and they're -- they get very involved in those.

CABELL: The court has already shown interest in the presidential election, as evidenced by two decisions last week regarding the secretary of state and the hand recounts. They'll likely stay involved.

UHLFELDER: They want to take control of this. They want to decide this decision, and they want everyone to know that they're going to do that. CABELL: Supreme Court justices used to be elected here, but Florida switched to a merit-retention system in the '70s. The governor appoints them, voters simply approve keeping them in uncontested elections. One of the hopes was to separate the court from politics. This week, for better or worse, the court won't be able to avoid politics.

Brian Cabell, CNN, Tallahassee.


WOODRUFF: When we return, President Clinton talks about the extended battle to choose his successor.


WOODRUFF: President Clinton is on his way back from his historic visit to Vietnam, the first American president to travel to that country since the end of the Vietnam War. His trip did not prevent the president from keeping an eye on the situation in Florida.

Our John King sat down with Mr. Clinton and asked him about the unusual presidential race.


JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): The recount continues, and along with it, the partisan rhetoric escalates. You have people on the Republican side speaking for Governor Bush saying the Democrats are trying to steal the election. Democrats, on the other hand, saying that the Republicans are trying to deny the people a fair count of the vote and shut down democracy.

Is this helpful, in your view? The process is obviously not pretty. Is it helpful what we're hearing from both sides?

CLINTON: Well, first of all, I mean, I don't know that that's a particularly useful question with all respect. I mean, you can't -- as close as this is, you know, now it appears that when all the votes are counted that Vice President Gore will have won a plurality of the popular vote. It appears that unless he wins Florida, he will be three votes short in the Electoral College. It -- therefore everything is on Florida. And Mr. Bush has a narrow -- the narrowest of leads out of 6 million votes, far less than 1/10 of a percent, or 1/6 of 1/10 of 1 percent, or something like that.

Now, in an environment like that, you have to assume that either side will try to, you know, make the best argument they can, because you only have a whisker of difference.

I think the important thing is that there is a process under way and it is being sheparded by the parties, they are both very well represented by articulate, able people, and they have recourse to the courts in Florida, and the Supreme Court seems to have been willing to be prompt in its decision making. So I think the American people should just let it play out and should understand that with so much at stake, both sides are going to make the strongest case they can, and the only thing that I hope that all of us will keep in mind here is that we don't know who won, but we do know that when people vote, they deserve to have their votes counted if they can be, and so we ought to just respect the process and respect the fact that the advocacy will take place and should take place. You can't blame either one of them for making the strongest case they can.

This is not a crisis in the American system of government, because it will come to an end. It will come to an end in plenty of time for the new president to take the oath of office, and there is a way of resolving these things. And all these cases are in the courts, and as I said, it appears to me that they're being handled in a fairly prompt way. Some of the decisions have gone one way, some have gone another way. And we'll just have to see what happens.

But I think the American people ought to let this -- it seems to me the American people are letting this play out in an appropriate way, and that's what I think should be done.

KING: Look around the corner, though. You have considerable experience in your own right trying to govern in a very difficult environment. Relations with the Republican Congress not terribly good during most of the latter half of your administrations. And now you have research being done on both sides about, well, maybe this will get thrown to the Congress and can we, you know, disqualify electors.

Do you see, A, with the election being so close and then, B, with the very difficult fight over who wins, can whoever gets this job reasonably govern, in your view?

CLINTON: Well, I would make two points: First of all, it is true that I faced an unusually partisan group of Republicans. But it's also true that we got a lot done. Even in a difficult atmosphere where the Congress is closely divided and the president is elected by a narrow margin, you should not assume that they won't be able to get something done. If they're willing to work hard, fight for their positions, and then in the end make principled compromises, quite a lot can be done. That's the first thing I want to say.

The second thing is, if you look at American history, it is not inevitable that the person who wins the White House under these circumstances will have a deeply divided country.

I don't think we should have all these hand-wringing, dire predictions. We've got a system that's under way and, you know, yes, these guys are, you know -- the advocates for either side are under enormous pressure. And of course, they're being pretty snippy with each other from time to time. But, look, you'd expect it. I mean, 100 million people voted, and there's 1,000 votes, more or less, at stake in Florida.

So everybody ought to just relax, let the process play out. But don't assume that no matter who wins and no matter what happens, it's going to be bad for America. It might be quite good, because it might be sobering for the country to realize we're in a completely new era. Nobody's got a lock on the truth. We're all trying to understand the future.

It's still clear that about two-thirds of the American people want a dynamic center that pulls the people together and moves us forward, and I think we still have a fair chance to achieve that.

KING: We are short on time -- indeed, out of time. But I just -- in a sentence or two, you have been at this eight years, and I think you have eight weeks. What runs through your head when you get up to go to the office every day?

CLINTON: I want to get everything done I can possibly do when I'm here. And for the rest, I just feel grateful.

America is in much better shape than it was eight years ago. We got to implement the ideas and the policies that I ran on in '92 and '96. I didn't do everything I wanted to do, but the overwhelming majority of things I wanted to do, I was able to accomplish, and I'm grateful that it worked out for the country.

And then a lot of other things came up along the way which were good for the country. So I'm happy now, and I'm grateful.

And of course, I'm thrilled about Hillary's election to the Senate. And I just feel enormous gratitude. But there's still a lot of things I'd like to do, and so I'll work right up to the end.


WOODRUFF: That interview done by our John King, Sunday, Vietnam time, while President Clinton was still there.

That's all for this special edition of INSIDE POLITICS. But, of course, you can go online all the time at CNN's

Stay tuned as our colleague Jeff Greenfield hosts a CNN special report: "AND THE WINNER IS?" And at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, a one-hour special edition of "CROSSFIRE."

I'm Judy Woodruff. Thanks for watching.



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