Gore and Bush claim moral high ground

Media Blitz
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The Independent US

Taking his battle for the White House direct to the American public, Vice-President Al Gore pledged yesterday that if he prevailed, he would "fight all the way for the principles that need to be defended".

Taking his battle for the White House direct to the American public, Vice-President Al Gore pledged yesterday that if he prevailed, he would "fight all the way for the principles that need to be defended".

Sensing that the moral high ground was for the time being his, Mr Gore said that he was persisting in his demand for manual recounts in Florida to leave the power with the people. "The choice really is whether the voters are going to decide this election by having every vote count," he said, "or whether that process is going to be short-circuited without all the votes being examined."

Mr Gore currently lags 300 votes behind his Republican rival in Florida, with absentee votes still to be counted. Nationwide, Mr Gore enjoys a small advantage in the popular vote, but his lead in the electoral college would be overturned if George W Bush won Florida.

Mr Gore's appearance on Tom Joyner's morning ABC radio show was the second time he had taken to the airwaves in 24 hours and signalled a no-holds-barred escalation of his struggle for the hearts and minds of America from which it will be hard to retreat.

In a quasi-presidential performance the previous evening, Mr Gore snatched a peak viewing-time slot to argue his case for continuing the recounts, while offering to drop all pending lawsuits if the Republicans agreed to accept the results. He had also proposed to Mr Bush a personal, one-on-one meeting "not to negotiate, but to improve the tone of the dialogue".

Mr Gore's unexpected media blitz, in which he marshalled all the public relations assets of his vice-presidential office, was a canny manoeuvre that appeared to catch the Bush camp offguard. After a miscued photo-opportunity for the media last week, in which he appeared to present himself as President-in-waiting - complete with his Cabinet - in an office rearranged to look like the Oval Office, Mr Bush had withdrawn to his ranch to wait out the eventual election result. The fighting he left to his proxies: chief among them James Baker, his father's former Secretary of State.

But within minutes of Mr Gore's surprise television appearance on Wednesday night, Mr Bush's advisers told him he could not afford not to respond in person. The alternative was to have his rival dominate the news all evening.

So the cars were assembled, and Mr Bush and his entourage sped back to Austin, where two hours and 45 minutes later his staff replicated the self-same form of Mr Gore's address: the official residence, the national flag, the formal dress, the running-mate - Mr Gore had had Joe Lieberman in the background; Mr Bush had Dick Cheney - the fireplace, and - all-important - the presidential "God Bless America" valediction.

While Mr Gore had appeared, if anything, overconfident and bombastic in full campaign mode - rushing his words, waving his arms and speaking with exaggerated emphasis - Mr Bush appeared strained and a little unnerved. The apparent absence of make-up and the less professional camera-angles did not help him. He looked smaller, less authoritative and less in his element than had Al Gore.

Mr Bush had the difficult task of rejecting Mr Gore's proposals without appearing either heedless of democratic principle or just plain unreasonable, and he weighed his words carefully. Without rejecting a meeting with Mr Gore outright, he insisted that such an encounter should wait until after "this election is over".

Throwing Mr Gore's word's back at him, he said that any further manual recounts in Florida - including a state-wide recount - "would be neither fair nor accurate", but "arbitrary and chaotic". And he challenged the idea of manual counting. Manual counts, he said, were not as fair as machine-counts, because they allowed votes to be "evaluated differently, by different individuals using different judgement and perhaps different local standards, or perhaps no standards at all".

"The outcome of this election," he said, "will not be the result of deals or efforts to mould public opinion. The outcome of this election will be determined by the votes and by the law." Mr Gore's radio appearance was the reply of the cut-throat political professional to his ambitious, but less practiced, opponent: an implicit and sceptical: "Oh yes?"