'The people's will is that Al Gore won in Florida'

Democrat challenge
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The Independent US

Al Gore's campaign handlers made clear yesterday that they were in no mood to offer a quick concession in the presidential election, forcefully asserting their belief that their candidate had carried the state of Florida - and the country - and accusing their opponent, George W Bush, of endangering the democratic process by presuming to have won.

Al Gore's campaign handlers made clear yesterday that they were in no mood to offer a quick concession in the presidential election, forcefully asserting their belief that their candidate had carried the state of Florida - and the country - and accusing their opponent, George W Bush, of endangering the democratic process by presuming to have won.

With just hours to go before the expected end of the recount ordered by Florida's electoral authorities, Mr Gore's campaign manager, Bill Daley, said his team would take whatever steps necessary to establish the true "will of the people".

But if Mr Daley thundered, the words that will carry most weight were those of former secretary of state Warren Christopher, Mr Gore's special envoy to supervise the Florida recount process, and the emblem of moderation, wisdom and experience in Democratic Party ranks.

Leaving no doubt that the Gore campaign intended to pursue the matter through the courts if Mr Bush still emerged the winner, Mr Christopher said there had been "serious and substantial" problems with the vote in Palm Beach County.

No one is yet talking of fraud, but the handler of the Clinton transition in 1992 made clear his belief that the ballot paper in Palm Beach misled many voters into punching a vote for the Reform Party candidate, Pat Buchanan, rather than Mr Gore.

If the matter does go into the courts, the Gore campaign expects the process to last weeks, possibly throwing into question the vote by electoral college members on 18 December.

"I have been in Florida for 20 hours and I am here to report that what we have learnt left us deeply troubled about the fairness of the election count that has been reported," Mr Daley said in a news conference in the state capital, Tallahassee. "If the will of the people is to prevail then Al Gore should be awarded a victory in Florida and be our next president."

With Democratic supporters rising up in revolt at the vote in Palm Beach, where a confusing ballot paper led to an extraordinarily high number of invalidations and a freakish spike in support for the far-right Reform Party, Mr Daley and his colleagues clearly hoped they could ride a wave of public indignation to keep alive their election hopes. Mr Buchanan himself has said the 3,400 votes he received in West Palm Beach, a predominantly Jewish retirement community hostile to his racist-tinged views, probably belonged to Mr Gore.

"All we are seeking is this: that the candidate who the voters prefer becomes the president," Mr Daley said. "That is what our constitutional principles demand ... That is what the American people deserve.

"Because this disenfranchisement of these Floridians is so much larger than the reported gap between Governor Bush and Vice-President Gore, we believe this requires the full attention of the courts in Florida and concerned citizens around our country."

The Democrats said they would request a second recount, this time conducted by hand rather than by machine, in Palm Beach and three other counties where they hope to be able to bolster Mr Gore's showing. They said the Palm Beach ballot should be challenged in court. At least one private suit has been filed by Gore supporters appaled at the idea they might have voted for Mr Buchanan by mistake.

"Let the legal system run its course. Let the true and accurate will of the people prevail," Mr Daley pleaded.

He expressed distaste at the Bush camp, which has started the transition from its headquarters in Austin, Texas, saying "bold claims" of victory "endanger the orderly transition of power.

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