Gore still optimistic, despite numerous recent legal setbacks

by George Fairbanks

With his presidential ambitions nearly dead, Vice President Al Gore went public Tuesday and spoke of his deep optimism.
“The effort I have underway is simply to make sure that all the votes are counted. I don’t feel anything other than optimistic,” Gore said at the afternoon press conference on the White House lawn.
The two crushing legal setbacks the Gore campaign has suffered in recent days — the U.S. Supreme Court annulment of the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling expanding hand count time limits and Leon County Circuit Court Judge N. Sanders Sauls’ refusal to order hand counts of disputed ballots — have opened up a new series of questions surrounding the Democrat and his future.
One question is how long congressional Democrats will remain in steadfast — and public — support of Gore and his embattled campaign.
As it stands now, however, the Florida Supreme Court is likely Gore’s last good chance to overtake the lead in Florida from his Republican counterpart Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
The Florida high court announced Tuesday it will hear verbal arguments from both candidates’ legal teams in Gore’s appeal of Sauls’ decision on Thursday.
If the state Supreme Court does not overturn Sauls’ decision, the pressure — which public opinion polls say is mounting — might become too intense for Gore to continue his fight.
The question then might become whether or not Gore will still be considered a strong candidate for the Democratic nomination in 2004.
University political science professor Bill Flanigan does not think Gore has damaged himself for the next presidential race, although he acknowledged that whichever candidate eventually loses will have a poor shot at his party’s nomination in the next presidential election.
“I’m not sure the winner has such a great shot either,” Flanigan added.
Flanigan’s political science colleague, Steve Smith, echoed the sentiment.
“I think it’s still a real possibility that he has the interest and the Democrats think he’s still a viable candidate. However, his personality limitation is difficult to overcome,” he said.
Flanigan noted if Gore managed to secure the nomination in four years, he may be inclined to pick his current running mate, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, again.
Smith added that if Gore gave an indication that he would not run or public opinion soured to the point where he could not run, Lieberman would likely be one of the names frequently mentioned as a candidate.
Political pundits from numerous newspapers and television news networks have been reporting about a rising tide of unease surrounding Bush’s handling of his possible transition.
In recent days, Bush’s running mate Dick Cheney has been doing much of the public speaking for the campaign. Bush has also given indications that his cabinet may resemble his father’s.
That could ultimately prove to be dangerous terrain for the governor.
“He came out of the campaign with certain liabilities. He was seen as an intellectual lightweight and simply an extension of his father because of his reliance on Cheney and (former Secretary of State James) Baker. He risks confirming his lightweight status,” Smith said.
Negative fallout might also exist for Lieberman. If he does ultimately return to the U.S. Senate, he might find that his reputation as a legislator who works across party lines could be damaged.
But Smith doesn’t see that happening.
“If he has reasonable proposals that are attractive to Republicans, he’ll still be a player,” he said.
Another concern making its way through public discourse has been America’s image to the rest of the world. Hot-tempered protesters have rallied around themes that the country has become a worldwide laughing stock.
“I don’t think there’s anything important to that,” Flanigan said. “Whatever journalistic fluff is there will disappear once this thing’s settled.”
Smith said, “The context, of course, is that the rest of the world is always looking for reasons to make fun of the U.S. He added, “We’re the New York Yankees of world politics; everyone loves to hate the U.S.”

George Fairbanks covers elections and welcomes comments at [email protected]