The best article I have seen on why it was that George W. Bush has taken such a very hard line against hand recounts. The key paragraphs come in the middle:

...all [the Bush team's] strategy springs from an early postelection assessment by campaign analysts that Mr. Bush probably wouldn't win a statewide recount by hand. So when Mr. Gore, just after the election, sought hand recounts in four friendly counties, Mr. Bush didn't counter by seeking recounts in GOP-leaning counties of his own. And when the vice president dramatically proposed a statewide hand count on national television last week, Mr. Bush rebuffed him.

That's caused some second-guessing among fretful Republicans not only in Florida but nationwide. Amid the recounting debate, for example, Tom Slade, Florida's GOP national committeeman, contacted Al Cardenas, his successor as state party chairman. Without GOP counties also participating in the hand counts, Mr. Slade complained, "we're in this competition, and we don't have any players on the field." Mr. Cardenas was unmoved, Mr. Slade recalls, replying that the Bush aim was to hold the line against hand counts, period.


Wall Street Journal November 20, 2000 Page One Feature

With No Quick Win in Sight, Bush Plots a Hard Line for the Long Haul

By JACKIE CALMES and EVAN PEREZ
Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL


For 10 days after Nov. 7's improbably inconclusive election, George W. Bush's strategy was based on a simple calculation: If he could just hold onto his slim lead in Florida until Nov. 18, he would be certified the winner by the state's Republican secretary of state. After that, his presidency would be seen as inevitable.

But the key date passed over the weekend, and the certification, stopped by the state's Supreme Court, didn't happen. As a result, a new, tougher Bush strategy has begun to emerge.

While the Bush team was once trying to speed the process of declaring a winner in Florida, it is now trying to wholly discredit -- if it can't stop -- the manual ballot recounts that are under way in two counties. In an escalation of rhetoric that seemed to go beyond the court of public opinion to suggest future battles in real courts, Bush lieutenants charged that the recounts in heavily Democratic counties were marked not just by "human error" but by chicanery smacking of fraud. "There is something obviously that is terribly, terribly wrong with what has been occurring," said Montana's Republican Gov. Marc Racicot from Austin, Texas, where he has joined the tight circle advising Mr. Bush.

Meanwhile, a broader army of Bush partisans, including a beefed-up legal squadron, has wheeled onto the battlefield. Such Bush stalwarts as retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf have joined the fray. Hundreds of operatives -- including scores of GOP congressional aides on leave from their Washington offices -- have stationed themselves inside and outside Florida's counting rooms in recent days, both to document the alleged chaos in the recount, and in some cases contributing to it by their protests. New efforts to inform and reassure nervous Republicans in Washington and beyond have been put in place.

All this marks a new tack from a Bush camp that, until this weekend, had been slower to react than the battle-ready Gore team, mainly out of the conviction that the slim Bush lead would inevitably prevail in Florida. The Bush team -- like the Gore team -- now is preparing to fight a much longer, and tougher, battle to seize Florida. The strategy is designed to win the presidency, yet it could add to the complications Mr. Bush will face if he assumes that office.

The sides will square off in Florida's Supreme Court Monday in a hearing to decide whether hand counts will go forward in three counties friendly to Mr. Gore. That court shook up the Bush calculations by unexpectedly declaring late Friday that a certification of results couldn't occur on Saturday, as planned, but instead must wait until the court hears arguments on the recounting dispute. So the recounting has continued in Broward and Palm Beach counties, and Florida's largest county, Miami-Dade, which started sorting ballots Sunday, plans to finally begin its own hand count Monday, nearly two weeks after the election. Officials there expect the process to go beyond Thanksgiving into next week.

The possible outcomes of Monday's court showdown are numerous. If the Supreme Court agrees with Katherine Harris, Florida's secretary of state, that it's too late to include manual recounts of Florida's ballots in the state's vote totals, Mr. Bush would be certified the winner. After the counting of absentee ballots from overseas, his 300-vote lead grew to 930 over the weekend. But a certification likely would set the stage for Democrats to challenge the entire election in court, on the grounds that some Florida voters had their ballots shut out of the process.

If, on the other hand, the court orders the recounts to continue and be included in the vote totals, then all eyes will turn to the three counties in South Florida proceeding with their hand counts. Last week, the Gore campaign was confident those hand counts would find enough new votes to put Mr. Gore over the top. But as of Sunday evening, they were much less certain. Though far from complete, the counts hadn't, on net, yielded as many votes as some Gore partisans had expected.

In case the hand counts do give Mr. Gore the votes he needs to win, the Bush team appears to be laying the groundwork for its own court challenge, arguing that the recounting was flawed and perhaps fraudulent.

The combativeness raises questions of just how far Mr. Bush is prepared to go. Florida's Republican House speaker, Tom Feeney, has broached the possibility that the state's heavily GOP legislature might step in and award the state's 25 electors to Mr. Bush before the Electoral College meets in mid-December. That would create a bizarre situation in which two sets of electors would claim to represent Florida's voters, which happened once before, in 1876. In that case, Congress set up an election commission to referee the dispute. Alternatively, such an impasse could throw the election itself into the House, and there Republicans would be favored. The Constitution gives each state delegation of House members one vote, and a majority of those delegations are controlled by Republicans.

Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer distances the campaign from such schemes. "We do not believe it needs to be or should be resolved in that way," Mr. Fleischer says. Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, Mr. Bush's congressional liaison and the House Republicans' chief deputy whip, or vote-counter, dismisses talk of a House showdown, with a return to the Bush camp's underlying confidence: "Before that, Bush will carry Florida and at some point the vice president will have to concede."

Still, the fact that such scenarios are being discussed suggests the risks that lie ahead for Mr. Bush. From day one, the war for public opinion has been as important as the legal one. Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore need public support to buy the time needed to succeed in the legal arena -- and to guarantee the legitimacy of the ultimate winner. The challenge is greatest for Mr. Gore, who must come from behind.

Trusting the People

But Mr. Bush is severely tested as well, particularly because he's taken a position of blocking votes that many people believe were rightfully cast. By arguing that a hand recount conducted by Florida citizens isn't proper, in fact, Mr. Bush seems to be arguing against a staple of his own campaign stump speeches, which holds that locals best handle their own affairs. "My opponent trusts government," he'd shout at each stop. "I trust the people."

The Bush team is on much stronger ground when it comes to complaints about overseas absentee ballots that weren't counted because they lacked a postmark or had other problems. The GOP team was out in force on Sunday, arguing that hundreds of members of the U.S. military had been disenfranchised by the unfair application of the rules on absentee ballots.

The Bush team's new offensive, like all its strategy, springs from an early postelection assessment by campaign analysts that Mr. Bush probably wouldn't win a statewide recount by hand. So when Mr. Gore, just after the election, sought hand recounts in four friendly counties, Mr. Bush didn't counter by seeking recounts in GOP-leaning counties of his own. And when the vice president dramatically proposed a statewide hand count on national television last week, Mr. Bush rebuffed him.

That's caused some second-guessing among fretful Republicans not only in Florida but nationwide. Amid the recounting debate, for example, Tom Slade, Florida's GOP national committeeman, contacted Al Cardenas, his successor as state party chairman. Without GOP counties also participating in the hand counts, Mr. Slade complained, "we're in this competition, and we don't have any players on the field." Mr. Cardenas was unmoved, Mr. Slade recalls, replying that the Bush aim was to hold the line against hand counts, period.

Overseeing the increasingly aggressive legal and public-relations push from Tallahassee is James Baker, former secretary of state and campaign manager for Mr. Bush's father. Bush aides say the elder Mr. Bush had nothing to do with bringing on Mr. Baker, who the younger Mr. Bush has blamed in part for his father's 1992 defeat. Instead, they say, the idea came from Karen Hughes, Mr. Bush's communications director and perhaps his most influential adviser. In Austin, Mr. Bush relies on running mate Dick Cheney, campaign strategist Karl Rove, Ms. Hughes and campaign chairman Don Evans.

Mr. Baker's legal team includes campaign counsel and longtime GOP lawyer Ben Ginsberg and Washington lawyer Theodore Olson. It has been fattened with top Florida lawyers as well as volunteer lawyers from Austin's and Washington's top lawyer-lobby shops. In recent days, the Florida flank has been strengthened by the addition of Miami-based law firm Greenberg Traurig LLP. Many observers consider the choice a good one. The firm has strong Democratic ties; Democratic fund-raiser Marvin Rosen, for instance, is a former partner and still "of counsel" to the firm. Victoria Reggie, now wife of Sen. Edward Kennedy, used to be a member of the firm. Mr. Bush's lead lawyer in Tallahassee, Barry Richard, is also a Democrat. "I think the Republicans are better organized" than the Democrats, said Bruce Rogow, an appellate lawyer who is helping represent Theresa LePore, the Palm Beach County elections supervisor.

Complaints of Chaos

Among the out-of-state lawyers helping Mr. Bush is Washington state attorney Vince Lombardi, grandson of the legendary Green Bay Packers coach. He was planning a Florida vacation and decided to come early.

The assertive tactics of this expanded Bush team were on full display over the weekend. As the Florida locals did their manual counts, often under the glare of TV lights, Bush lawyers were inside the room raising objection after objection. GOP lawyers and spinners outside complained about the chaos inside.

In Miami, Republican lawyers made a motion at a canvassers' board meeting Saturday to inspect all 654,000 ballots before any counting could begin. When the board denied the request, GOP attorney Miguel De Grandy said he would recommend the party seek a court order.

In Palm Beach, Bush spokesman Tucker Eskew described the counting room as "chaos," and charged that county election officials were bullying people, and sanctioning a "coverup" of bad counting, including a case where Bush ballots were found in a Gore pile. "There have been attempts to intimidate observers who raised objections," Mr. Eskew said.

His accounts contrasted sharply with reports from actual counters and from press observers. "It's not chaotic at all," said counter Tanya Davis-Johnson. "The instructions are very clear. It's very relaxed." County Judge Charles Burton, chairman of the canvassers board, insisted, "It's not the hocus-pocus it's being made out to be."

In Plantation, site of Broward County's recount, George Lemieux, vice chairman of the local Republican Party, was on the phone imploring party coordinators to replace the Republicans' count-watchers if they didn't object enough during their turns at the recount tables. Mr. Lemieux denied doing that, but when a reporter said he'd overheard him, the GOP official countered, "If you heard me saying that, I was just repeating what other people might have said. I was giving no such instructions."

Broward County GOP chairman Ed Pozzuoli denied Republicans had a strategy of delay. "This is going to be over by Tuesday; there's no delay tactic," he said. During an earlier court hearing, Bush lawyer William Scherer argued strenuously that the judge should force the county's three canvassing board members to remain in court to testify on the validity of the recount. The board's lawyers, along with Democrats, pointed out that keeping the board members in court would force a suspension of the hand count, because all three members must be present.

Suspicious Flaws

The GOP's zealous oversight of the recounting led to the weekend's assertions of deep and suspicious flaws in the process. One of Gov. Racicot's chief objections was the Democratic dominance of the local election convassing boards, a fact that has been plain from the start.

"Every questionable ballot is decided by a Democrat-dominated canvassing board," he told reporters in laying out the Bush complaints. "And in Palm Beach, there are three Democratic members of that board. In Broward County, there are two Democrats and one Republican. And in Miami-Dade, there are two Democrats and one Republican."

Mr. Racicot said the campaign had secured at least two witnesses' affidavits of so-called chads, the cardboard punched out to cast a vote, being taped "over the hole" that would indicate a vote for Mr. Bush, effectively robbing Mr. Bush of a vote. He added that Ms. LePore, the Democratic election supervisor in Palm Beach, "has simply brushed off these concerns." Judge Charles Burton, who heads the Palm Beach County canvassing board, said only one absentee ballot with the chad taped up was brought to the attention of the canvassers, and it was tossed out.

In another complaint, Gov. Racicot said that "Bush ballots were found in the Gore pile to be counted as Gore votes." This was apparently a reference to an incident, also in Palm Beach on Saturday morning, in which a Democratic observer spotted about five Bush ballots that had mistakenly been put in a Gore pile. He pointed it out to Republicans and the canvassers, and they were returned to the Bush pile.

The governor also said GOP witnesses tell of counters using ballots to fan themselves -- a reference to an incident that occurred Thursday night, after which counters were told to refrain from such actions.

The Bush team also hit hard on the issue of more than 1,000 overseas ballots that had been nullified because they weren't properly postmarked or witnessed. That is how Gov. Racicot, as a former Army lawyer who served overseas, came into the fray so prominently.

"The vice president's lawyers have gone to war in my judgment against the men and women who serve in our armed forces," said Mr. Racicot, who's thought to be in line for a post in a Bush administration. "The man who would be their commander in chief is fighting to take away the votes from the people that he would command." The Bush forces also enlisted Gen. Schwarzkopf, who issued a statement calling it "a very sad day in our country."

All this jockeying for advantage brings short-term as well as long-term problems for Mr. Bush. From Austin, his supporters are having to do some hand-holding among party members uncertain whether the strategy is working. Congressional Republicans' concerns are "going up and down" depending on events, a Bush aide says. "They're not sure what to think." Late last week, Rep. Blunt came down to Austin to field colleagues' calls and pass on their sentiments to Mr. Bush and his circle.

Growing Unease

Mr. Bush generally enjoys solid GOP support, especially since he has been ahead in the votes. But some party activists are uneasy about his strategy, based as it is on blocking the hand counts that are allowed in many other states, including Mr. Bush's Texas. Another political wrinkle is that the counties now examining ballots that voting machines may have passed over have large populations of the minority, ethnic and elderly voters Mr. Bush has sought to reach.

That, of course, could undercut one of Mr. Bush's main arguments for himself as president: that he would be a "uniter, not a divider" who could bring people together to produce results.

Should he triumph, Mr. Bush will face a divided Congress that is remarkably similar in party breakdown to the 83rd Congress that greeted Dwight Eisenhower's presidency in 1953 -- and proved so deadlocked that Democrats two years later were able to capture House and Senate majorities that they held for most of the next four decades. If Republicans win a still-contested Senate race in Washington state, they will have a two vote, 51-49 majority in the Senate under a Bush administration. In 1953, the Senate broke 49-47 for the GOP counting independent Wayne Morse who voted with Republicans. In the new House next year, Republicans are expected to have a 221-212 majority with two independents split evenly among the parties. In 1953, Republicans had 221-213 majority with one independent.

Still, just being a fresh face would be an asset for Mr. Bush, given the acidic climate among those currently in Washington. "Many people in Congress are ready to turn the page," says Rep. Blunt. The House's so-called Blue Dog and New Democrat coalitions of moderate to conservative Democratic members would give Mr. Bush a bloc of close to 80 Democratic votes that could be fertile ground for him. He would have to scale back his tax cuts to get conservative Democrats -- who are very keen on debt reduction -- but he would still have a chance to break Congress's logjam.

That assumes a Bush victory, of course, and much fighting could lie ahead before one emerges. If Mr. Bush's strategy begins showing signs of success, there could even be some tensions with the Clinton administration, which would have to cooperate with the Bush camp in any transition.

If the Florida Supreme Court rules that the state may certify Mr. Bush as the election winner without recounting the vote manually, the Texas governor could ask for the keys to the transition offices in Washington that have been prepared for the president-elect. The General Services Administration, led by a Clinton appointee, would have to decide whether he was entitled to them -- or whether to wait for a Gore concession.

-- John McKinnon, Sarah Lueck and David Rogers contributed to this article.

Write to Jackie Calmes at jackie.calmes@wsj.com and Evan Perez at evan.perez@wsj.com