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Crossfire

Will Dimples Make the Difference in Election 2000?

Aired November 21, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET

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

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: ... three counties in Florida, and the Florida Supreme Court has yet to rule on the status of those hand counts, even though they've been working on their decision all day long.

Here's where we stand at this hour. In Broward County, with all precincts down, Gore has picked up 118 votes. In Palm Beach County, 104 out of 531 precincts, Gore has picked up three votes. And in Miami-Dade, 99 out of 614 precincts, Gore plus 114. That gives Gore a net gain of 241.

The secretary of state's uncertified returns still show Governor Bush with 930-vote lead.

But it's not that easy. We still don't know whether the final results of those hand counts will be included in the official total, and there are thousands of disputed ballots yet to be decided. So tonight, will Al Gore or will George Bush accept the decision of the Florida Supreme Court as final in this matter or will they fight on and on and on? -- Mary.

MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: The question of the day, and before we get to that with our guest, let's check in with two correspondents covering the presidential campaigns that wouldn't end. First in Austin, Texas, our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley, whom we promise will be home before Christmas -- Candy.

PRESS: Maybe.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Mary, on both counts.

Most of the action out of Austin actually came in Florida, where lawyers for Governor Bush put in sort of a PS to the Supreme Court hearings that we all saw on Monday, and in it, the lawyers addressed specifically the question of whether or not the Supreme Court of Florida can decide which ballots are accepted, you know, the famous dimpled ballot question.

In this brief, the Bush lawyers argued that the Supreme Court is without power to decide this question of ballot standards. They argue that, first of all, there is no Florida law on it, and second of all, there is no case before the Supreme Court that deals with this. Why didn't they address this before? One of the lawyers said to us that basically they got sandbagged, they believe, by Gore lawyers who only put this issue of ballot standards into the public record late Sunday afternoon. The Bush team said it didn't have time to then respond to that. They consider this an outrageous attempt, according to one of the lawyers for the Bush team, to try to insert an issue into the Supreme Court that wasn't actually there.

Now, as far as what the governor is doing, he was out and about again today. He has to move from his mansion to the Statehouse, where he conducts state business. But we also saw inside the Statehouse Karl Rove, his political strategist, Andy Card, a man most people think would be Bush's chief of staff, if indeed there was a Bush administration.

So the Bush team is waiting this out. One Bush staffer described the tension within the campaign on Monday as sort of eerie while they sat around in suspended animation waiting for the Supreme Court arguments. I suspect that that suspended animation is still going on.

As far as the issues and the PR is concerned, the Bush team feels that it has indeed scored with this whole military ballot, overseas issue. They believe that the reason the Democrats are out there fighting it so hard is that it has really struck a cord among the public -- Mary.

MATALIN: Thank you, Candy, and we miss you. Now to the Gore campaign here in Washington -- thank goodness for you, John; that's where the vice president is centered -- senior White House correspondent John King -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Some might argue better restaurants in Austin.

(LAUGHTER)

The vice president out of the public eye today. He did send Senator Bob Kerrey down to Florida, Kerrey, of course, a decorated Vietnam veteran. He was the point man today on this whole controversy over the military ballots, Senator Kerrey saying, sure, we can go back and look at some of those ballots again if you want -- excuse me, I'll just turn this off. Now, it happens sometimes.

But we can go look at those ballots again. But he also said, if you're going to look the military ballots again, let's look at all those dimpled ballots. And that's the big controversy now. The Gore campaign awaiting the Supreme Court ruling. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Governor Bush, look, there will be all sorts of pressure on the vice president to bow out gracefully and call it quits. They don't expect that to happen. They expect the court to allow the recounts to continue.

What they hope the court also does is give a clear standard for those three counties still doing the recounts, say here's how you should consider voter intent when you look at those little dimples on the ballots. They believe that is the key now. As Bill noted, the numbers at the top of show, the vice president still about 700 votes down if those 230, 240 are counted. They don't believe when all the recounting is done they will get quite there. They believe they will still be down some and that they need to count those contested ballots.

Lawyers on both sides concede if you go to the stacks of contested ballots, the vice president likely to pick up 1,000, maybe as many as 1,500 votes. That would turn the tide, at least for the moment.

Then the Bush campaign would consider its legal options. But that's the big fight now. If they win the Supreme Court decision, the Gore campaign will press aggressively to count all those dimpled ballots.

MATALIN: Thank you, John King and Candy.

Senator, while all of this is going on and before we jump into the briar patch of all of this, something else has been going on below the surface and that was an announcement by Bob Beck, a long time Democrat, ran Mondale's campaign in 1984 and he announced that he was initiating an intelligence gathering operation into Republican electors backgrounds to get them to defect or vote for Gore instead of Bush.

Is this -- obviously looking into their background is an attempt to intimidate them or blackmail them -- do you want the presidency so bad that you would resort to blackmailing Republican electors?

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (R-NC), GORE SUPPORTER: No, I think what we want is we want the Florida Supreme Court to enforce the law of Florida -- which is what I expect them to do -- and for there be a fair count under the law of Florida and for that to be the determining factor in who wins presidency.

MATALIN: Well, you know why this is disturbing is because it fits this pattern of the politics of personal destruction that we have seen for the past eight years. And we saw it in the campaign. We saw it with the last-minute DUI on George Bush, the last-minute talking of Ralph Nader's sex life and we are now seeing it in what's going on in Florida.

As "The Wall Street Journal" noted today, quote, if Katherine Harris threatens to do the job she was elected to do savage her as a partisan. Haul out the tort lawyers to try every doorknob and impart Jesse Jackson for some race-baiting. And assume that from principle, disgust, and intimidation from the media amplifier, the republicans will stand aside.

Is that the Gore strategy?

EDWARDS: Of course not, that's the Republican "Wall Street Journal" editorial board. I think that what we want to see happen is first of all we need to ratchet down the rhetoric. I mean, there has been way too much partisanship, way too much talking. And what we need to do is let the process work.

We need to let the Florida Supreme Court do what they are responsible for doing, which is enforce and interpret Florida law. And under the terms of Florida law, for the votes to be counted.

And I think that is exactly what is happening now and basically what the Florida Supreme Court I think is going to do in this decision, whenever it is, tonight, tomorrow, over next few days, is provide, hopefully, a final determination of how the Florida law should be applied to these circumstances and how that law should be followed by local election rules.

PRESS: Congressman Hutchinson, let me bring you in there and thank you for joining us.

You are an attorney and you are a conservative and you have great respect for state law and here this matter is now before the highest court in the state of Florida. Whatever the court's decision, and as Senator Edwards just pointed out, we don't know which way they are going to go, but when that court rules as the highest court in the land, in the state of Florida, should Governor Bush accept that decision?

REP. ASA HUTCHINSON (R-AR), BUSH SUPPORTER: Well, that's a decision that Governor Bush will have to make and lot will depend upon whether there is a recount and the impact of that recount.

I think it will be very difficult for the United States Supreme Court to intervene in this matter, to accept this, because the deference is given to state law on election contests. The 11th circuit has not been too exited by jumping in the middle of this.

I think that the Florida Supreme Court tomorrow will try to adhere to Florida law as Senator Edwards was talking about. But there's a conflict in Florida law. There's deadlines that are set and what the Democrats are asking the Florida Supreme Court to do is to ignore those deadlines.

And there's somewhat of a -- I don't think it's a conflict. I think it can be resolved that the Florida Supreme Court simply authorizes secretary of state to go ahead and stick with the deadlines. If the manual recount continues at discretion of the local canvassing board, then that could certainly be used by Vice President Gore in any election challenge. They have to be able to get the certification done so if there is any challenge then it can be resolved before the December 12th date.

You reconcile Florida law together by doing it in that fashion. But we certainly want the Florida law to be adhered to by the deadlines that are set by the Florida statute. And the Supreme Court can't make it up by setting new standards or new deadlines as they go along.

PRESS: Well, Congressman, let me take you to the next step, because I have talked to several legal experts today, some of whom are down there in Tallahassee who indicated it is pretty clear the court is going to say that hand counts shall be completed. They are already way in process. Two, it's pretty clear, once completed, that they will say the results of those hand counts must be certified. And as John King pointed out, that Al Gore could pick up maybe 1,000, 1,500 votes out of those hand counts if all the ballots are counted. That would put Al Gore the winner of Florida. At that point, having won the electoral vote and the popular vote, do you think if that happens Governor Bush ought to concede or should he contest the election?

HUTCHINSON: Well, of course Governor Bush has been counted as the winner once, twice, and each of those occasions Vice President Gore has not conceded the election. He has gone on to fight it in court to try to count dimpled ballots, to challenge the decision of the local canvassing board if they exclude the dimpled ballots to get every count of recount so that he can eventually try to wind up on top.

At that point -- one, I don't think Florida Supreme Court is going to go the direction that you just indicated. I think that there is a manual recount -- if it continues, then that can be considered in any subsequent election contest, if necessary, by Vice President Gore. But I don't think...

PRESS: So what you're saying is that Governor Bush will not accept those results? Is that what you're saying?

HUTCHINSON: Well, certainly, that is a decision that he makes and I don't think any one is in a position to announce what they're going to do in advance. A lot depends on what Vice President Gore does, exactly what the ruling is and what the recount is. I'm fairly optimistic that if the recount is fairly done, in which you have a standard that is accepted like they've already tried to set in some counties where you don't count dimpled ballots that I think that Governor Bush will probably become the winner.

But if they keep recounting and recounting until it's something that's acceptable to Vice President Gore, it could be a different result and then the courts review it to see if there's been an abuse of discretion by the local canvassing board in flip-flopping on their standards.

MATALIN: All right. Flip-flopping on those chads. We're learning a whole bunch of new stuff. But for you, tonight, our audience, you have an opportunity to vote and here's the question: Should Bush or Gore take their case to the United States Supreme Court? Tell us at cnn.com/crossfire and look for the results a little later.

Then stay online for tonight's debate after the show, first with the vice president's supporter Senator John Edwards and then Governor Bush's supporter Congressman Asa Hutchinson. It all starts right after the show. And when we come back, we'll talk about those in famous military ballots. You're looking at a live picture of the Florida Supreme Court where the announcement will be made sometime we hope before 2002. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATALIN: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. The many battles over Florida, the one that struck a really raw nerve is over those who fight our wars -- after hundreds of overseas military ballots were rejected. Have our service personnel become casualties in this political war.

On that and the ground combat in Florida, Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, a Gore supporter; and in Fort Smith, Arkansas, Congressman Asa Hutchinson, a bush supporter -- Bill?

PRESS: Congressman, I'll come back to you, please, with the question of the standard that the court might set, which you just referred to. And by the way, I agree with you and all the other Bush people who are saying there should be a statewide standard. But here's my question: In most other states where this question has come up -- Massachusetts, Illinois, California, which I'm very well aware of -- pregnant chads and dimpled chads are all counted. Why should the standard be any different in Florida?

HUTCHINSON: Well, because the Florida legislature did not indicate that. They did not set that clear of a standard, and the county canvassing boards have been trying to interpret as they go along -- of course, which, in the key counties that we're debating with are controlled by Democrat officials. And so that's the problem in doing the manual recount is that you have varying standards across the state and in different counties here.

In this case, you've got the Democrats going into, I believe it's Palm Beach County, trying to force them to look at the dimpled chads, whereas the county canvassing board adopted a different type of standard. That makes it very, very difficult and subjective.

PRESS: Well that's why it's in front of the Florida Supreme Court, which has been asked to set a statewide standard. And when they look, by the way, for models that they might follow, Congressman -- as our Brooks Jackson showed today on "INSIDE POLITICS" -- there's one model they might look at, which happens to be the state of Texas.

Here is Tony Sirvello, who is the elections chief in Harris County, Texas. Here's how they do it down there in the longhorn state -- just listen up, please.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SIRVELLO, HARRIS COUNTY ELECTION ADMINISTRATOR: Since we introduced punch cards in Harris County 1982, I've probably done approximately 50 recounts. At the beginning, some of those were electronic. In the last 15 years, most of those have been manual recounts; and in most of those manual recounts we have counted what the media is calling dimpled chads, what we call in Texas, indented chads.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: OK in Texas, why not in Florida Congressman?

HUTCHINSON: Well, of course in Texas you have a statewide standard. It's my understanding that it's apples and oranges...

PRESS: Why? Why?

HUTCHINSON: ... the problem in Florida is you do not have that -- why is it different? I'm not an expert on that, but it's my understanding that that is a different application -- that is, the recount -- for the manual recount -- has different standards and so it's a different circumstance than what we're looking at in Florida, in which one is a deadline and you have each county setting their own standards, which is the problem. And the counties, again, are flip- flopping back and forth looking at -- trying to determine the voter's intent.

So I think that is what is the problem here -- that you've had a count, you've had a recount under Florida law, and now we need to have a deadline, and that's what the Supreme Court is wrestling with.

MATALIN: Of course that is the huge difference. In Texas there's one recount, not four recounts.

Let's move on to these military ballots because, while the Democrats are trying to lower the standards for all these dimpled ballots, it appeared they tried to heighten the standard for military ballots. Senator Kerrey, your colleague went down -- was out for the Gore campaign today trying to quell the confusion and the PR mess that the Gore campaign did by doing this.

Let's listen to Senator Kerrey.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BOB KERREY (D), NEBRASKA: In the military we accept responsibility for our mistakes, we don't blame it on somebody else.

The military shouldn't be allowed any special favors.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATALIN: They're not asking for special favors; these -- they were not postmarked. These military people can't be responsible when they're in dangerous or far-away locations -- if their ballots aren't postmarked, that's not their responsibility. Shouldn't we include these ballots?

EDWARDS: Well, Congressional Medal of Honor winner Bob Kerrey, my friend, has earned the right to offer his opinion on this. I have a little different opinion, and have had from the very beginning.

MATALIN: Which is?

EDWARDS: Which is that I think we should bend over backwards under the law to count these ballots. Like Mary, we're doing with the other ballots in Palm Beach County and Dade County and Broward County. We need to do everything we can to follow Florida law, to follow the Florida constitution, both of which provide that he we're to do everything in our power to discern voter intent and gives that responsibility to these local elections boards.

So a lot of these arguments that we're hearing made by Asa and other people about the way the hand count is being conducted is really an argument with Florida law. Their argument is with the Florida legislature. I think ultimately for this whole process to have credibility with the American people and for us to be as leaders -- Asa and I and others to be leaders of this country and provide some leadership on this issue, we have to be able to help bridge divide, bring people together and have people accept the result. And I think ultimately for that to happen people have to feel like the law has been followed, and at least up until now, that's happened, and I think the Florida Supreme Court is going to help in enforcing that law.

PRESS: I know that you've more to say. I can see another question that Mary's ready to pop but we have just run out the clock. Senator John Edwards, thanks so much for joining us. Congressman Hutchinson, down there in Fort Smith, Arkansas, good to have you back on the show. We'll see you back in Washington after the holidays, I guess. And thank you both.

Now, don't miss tonight's debate. It doesn't stop here. It continues online, first with Gore supporter, Senator John Edwards and then Bush supporter Congressman Asa Hutchinson. You can join them on cnn.com/crossfire right after the show and Mary and I will be back with our closing comments.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATALIN: Well, before those comments, earlier we asked you to go online and tell us whether Bush or Gore should take their case to the United States Supreme Court. Your results are in -- 60 percent of you said now; 40 percent of you said yes.

And Wolf wants to join in there. I think he says let's end this thing now. I love Senator Edwards. I love Senator Miller, all of whom are saying these military ballots should never have been in jeopardy and the reason they are in jeopardy is because the orchestrated, vocal, systematic activity of higher Democrats going into those counties to get them invalidated.

PRESS: They are in jeopardy because Katherine Harris, your buddy, put out a directive on November the 13th that said, which I copy of, that no overseas ballots shall be counted if it does not have a postmark. I think the secretary of state was wrong. I agree. Count every one of those military ballots, but count every one of those ballots cast by veterans and their families in Palm Beach. We should include them all. Don't disenfranchise anybody, Mary. You guys have been trying to block the vote in Palm Beach County for two weeks.

MATALIN: No, we've been trying to get you to do it such a way that you don't -- it's not prejudicial and unconstitutional to other voters. You've changed your standards four times in the process of the recount.

PRESS: Oh, and you haven't changed anything. But the Supreme Court is going to set a statewide standard and watch out for those pregnant chad.

MATALIN: You haven't change anything? You haven't changed anything? The Democratic Supreme Court.

PRESS: From the left -- oh, there you go. From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE. See you on "THE SPIN ROOM" at 11.

MATALIN: That's right. From the right, I'm Mary Matalin. Join us tomorrow night for CROSSFIRE. Stay up tonight and watch "THE SPIN ROOM" with the rest of America.

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