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Bush Wins One, Time for PR

Tuesday, 14 November 2000 12:00 AM

A Florida state judge gave the Bush camp its first victory by saying the final vote was due in Tuesday at 5 p.m. and that late vote tallies from recounts may be entered at the sole discretion of the Florida Secretary of State.

Yes, the judge’s ruling leaves open the door to heavily Democratic counties of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach to file new "recounted" vote tallies. And yes, these counties also have a good chance of winning an appeal in the very Democratic Florida Supreme Court.

Still, this was Bush’s first victory and it has, for the moment, stopped Gore’s growing momentum.

It’s time for Bush to seize the initiative and regain the high ground.

To do this Bush’s team has to put up a Clintonesque sign in its war room: "It’s the P.R., stupid."

What happens in the courts, on the election boards, and among state officials is not so critically important as what Americans across the country are thinking.

Gore knows this and is pursuing the sham claims for Florida based on two factors.

The first factor helping Gore is that he, so far, is winning the popular vote. This gives him a psychological edge over Bush. It is, consciously or unconsciously, a powerful argument that Gore should be president.

Second, the polls are fueling Gore. The Clinton-Gore team has been the most poll-driven administration in history.

As long as the polls show that Gore’s Democratic base supports him, and that swing voters aren’t turning against him, Gore will continue to pursue his campaign for the presidency. (Clinton, I believe, survived impeachment precisely because the polls gave him high approval ratings.)

Does Gore care what independent, swing voters think of him?

No, but the Democratic Party and its elected officials, who are a minority party in both houses of Congress, do.

The minute Gore goes south in the opinion polls, Democrat heavies will throw him overboard – and quickly.

This is why it is critical for Bush’s team to focus – not just on the legal challenges in Florida but also on middle Americans who are trying to figure out who should be president.

Bush’s team needs to convince these Americans that

• Gore's campaign and the Democratic Party engaged in vote fraud in Florida – that’s the only reason the race is close.

• the Gore campaign is trying to "steal" the election.

• the big media – who have backed Gore – made a phony projection giving Gore Florida on election night. This false projection depressed Republican voting in Florida’s Panhandle and throughout the West.

• the electoral process has now become a farce in Florida as select Democratic counties do a recount of paper ballots, which can easily be manipulated and are prone to fraud.

• the electoral process has been polluted by Democratic partisanship, people like Palm Beach Commissioner Carol Roberts, a close supporter of Gore who actually met with him in Washington.

These are just some of the themes the Republicans need to hammer home with John and Jane Q. Public.

For sure the Democrats are hammering home – very effectively – their claims.

Consider how much positive press coverage the Democrats have gotten in their claim that the Palm Beach butterfly ballot is cause to have a new election. Notice how they have been hammering Florida’s Republican secretary of state for partisanship and alleged corruption.

Do you see such negative attention being drawn to Florida’s Democratic attorney general, Bob Butterworth? No, even though Butterworth was Gore’s campaign chairman here in Florida.

Butterworth just issued a report saying the counties can do the manual recount and submit the results. Very few press outlets pointed out Butterworth’s partisanship and conflict of interest.

The Bush people need to go back to campaign mode. They had an excellent research operation that issued white papers during the campaign pointing out every error made by Gore on the campaign trail.

They need a similar operation now. Point out the facts. Cut through the media-Democratic spin. Persuade America.

This is not a battle for votes, nor for legal justice. It’s a battle for public opinion. Urgent message to Austin: "It’s the P.R., stupid."

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A Florida state judge gave the Bush camp its first victory by saying the final vote was due in Tuesday at 5 p.m. and that late vote tallies from recounts may be entered at the sole discretion of the Florida Secretary of State. Yes, the judge's ruling leaves open the door...
Tuesday, 14 November 2000 12:00 AM
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