Rival camps tentatively look for a way out of the impasse

The Interventions
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The Independent US

Out of the fog of lawsuits swirling around Florida yesterday came two clearly defined interventions. One came from James Baker, who is representing George W Bush's interests; the other from the camp of Al Gore. Both offered evidence that the doubtless faltering search out of the weeklong impasse was finally on.

Out of the fog of lawsuits swirling around Florida yesterday came two clearly defined interventions. One came from James Baker, who is representing George W Bush's interests; the other from the camp of Al Gore. Both offered evidence that the doubtless faltering search out of the weeklong impasse was finally on.

Citing the desire of "the American people who want the parties to find a way to bring this election to an end", Mr Baker proposed that both sides accept the vote count of all Florida's counties by yesterday's statutory 5pm deadline. Recognising that this would amount to a Gore camp concession, Mr Baker said that in return the Bush camp would drop all its lawsuits and accept the four-county manual recounts that it had opposed.

The Gore campaign flew a kite of its own. US newspapers quoted aides to Al Gore as floating the idea that the whole of the Florida vote should be recounted by hand, with the advance understanding by both sides that the result would be accepted as final.

The selective and county-level manual recounts have so far turned up a few extra votes for Mr Gore, but not as many as they seemed to anticipate at the outset.

A more modest variation on this theme was set out by Leon Panetta, a former Clinton White House chief of staff, who used a New York Times article to call on the two sides to come together and "agree, for example, to allow both sides to hand-count those votes that can be challenged under Florida law and could establish a deadline (perhaps Dec. 1) for conclusion of that process and complete counting of the absentee ballots".

Both sides would have to agree that the count would be final, and there would be a winner in time for the electoral college vote on 18 December.

With legal appeals still pending on yesterday's 5pm deadline for Florida's results, neither side was in a mood to compromise, and both proposals received dusty answers. Bill Daley, Mr Gore's campaign manager, rejected Mr Baker's proposal within an hour. This was not a "proposal", he said, but a "reaffirmation" of the Bush camp's position. Mr Baker dismissed the idea of a state-wide manual recount - without stating where it came from - as "crazy".

Objections to accepting the results of a state-wide manual recount could also come from unhappy voters of Palm Beach County who believe a confusing ballot paper distorted their vote.

Yesterday, at least, the indirect Bush-Gore exchange went nowhere. But the fact that it happened at all showed the first feelers being extended in search of a solution. Both teams were clearly growing worried that the proliferation of lawsuits could rebound against their candidate.

Newspaper editorials and commentaries were already expressing impatience and frustration yesterday, and the fear was that these sentiments could rapidly spread. Some questioned the knock-on effects of the fight on the authority of the next President.

But it was still too early to talk of voluntary compromise.

US political analysts yesterday broached a number of compromises. And if the electoral college itself was deadlocked, and the Congress was unable to decide, the Constitution singles out the Speaker of the House. Enter Dennis Hastert, veteran Republican Congressman from Illinois and long-time college football coach, as President.

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