Today's Papers

Courting Disaster?

Everybody leads with the election. The USA Today and New York Times headlines focus on today’s ratchet-up: representatives of George W. Bush’s campaign going into a federal court this morning to seek an injunction that would stop the hand recounts proceeding in populous and apparently Democratic-majority precincts in Florida. The Washington Post headline is the only one that explicitly addresses the matter of time: “RECOUNT SHOWS NO SIGN OF EARLY END.” The USAT headline is the only one that mentions that New Mexico is also a battleground–reflecting its lead that high up says the just-completed recount there took the state from the Gore column and put it in the Bush column, by 17 votes, and that as a precaution the state police have impounded ballots there. The Los Angeles Times lead has irenic quotes from top Democrats Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle, with Gephardt flatly saying, “When all of the hand recounts are finished, then whoever is the loser should give in and recognize the other party.” The Wall Street Journal election front-pager has former Democratic Sen. Dale Bumpers similarly saying that if Gore trails at the end of the week, “that might be an appropriate time for Gore to say the national interest is superior to the interests of one person.”

All the leads pass along the Associated Press tally that says the Bush Florida edge after the latest Palm Beach recount is 288. But the NYT and LAT also report that as of late last night, recounts in another county have produced a 33-vote increase there for George W. Bush. And the LAT, WP, and NYT report that (by a party-line 2-1 vote), the Palm Beach County election board decided late last night to conduct a manual recount of the entire county. The LAT reports that in Miami police continue to hold on to two ballot boxes found days after the election.

The coverage explains that the Bush legal effort, defended on television over the weekend by James Baker, is designed to get the Gore forces to accept in advance whatever the results are of the statewide, mostly automated, recount; to abandon, that is, the idea of possibly asking for subsequent hand recounts. The NYT has this description of the strategy from an unnamed Gore adviser: “After a generation of efforts to try to use the federal courts to expand the franchise, to get more votes counted, the Bush campaign is trying to use the federal courts to get less votes counted.” And the LAT has this response from the Gore campaign’s counterpart to Baker, Warren Christopher: “There’s no constitutional crisis. … There’s a 75-day period between the election and inauguration. We’ve used up only 4½ or five days of that now.” The papers do point out however, one time issue that’s a bit more pressing: tomorrow’s 5 p.m. deadline for the state election canvassing commission to certify the state result. USAT and the WP report that Gore advisers will be meeting with the commission head today about this. The LAT says the Democrats are prepared to sue if necessary to extend that deadline. None of the leads explains if either Baker or Christopher will actually be arguing today’s court case.

The LAT lead notes that yesterday, the Bush campaign issued an “urgent” appeal for money to finance post-election efforts (including the info that overnight delivery would be good), reminding also that the Gore campaign started raising funds for this purpose last week. The WP and NYT report on the Bush fund inside.

The NYT off-lead has several law professors, citing the general anti-federalism streak of Republicans, noting the “delicious” irony of the Bush effort to so quickly get the matter out of the hands of state officials and into the federal courts. The paper’s lead editorial goes a bit beyond intellectual fun to call Bush’s recourse to the federal courts “disingenuous.”

The NYT lead quotes one senior Republican with good access to the two campaigns as saying that they both “see their struggle as an all-out war of good versus evil, right versus wrong and playing fair versus playing dirty, with no easy choices.” The LAT lead notwithstanding, the WP lead says that election rhetoric is growing more inflamed and says that “several leading Republicans charge that [the] White House could be ‘stolen,’ ” but only produces one example–Trent Lott–although it has a chat show reference by Bob Dole to Chicago-area elections that’s a practical equivalent. The paper goes on to note that Dole also talked of a possible boycott of the inauguration should Gore prevail. And it’s not just Republicans dissing Democrats. USAT’s “Life” section front reports that in a speech over the weekend, West Wing president Martin Sheen called George W. Bush a “white-knuckle drunk.”