Kausfiles Special

Has Bush Blown It in Florida?

New Bush campaign slogan: “They trust the people. We trust machines!”

Recriminations, the flip side: Am I missing something, or has Bush foolishly set himself up to lose Florida? The manual recount currently underway in four Florida counties seems likely to produce enough Gore votes to wipe out Bush’s 327-or-so vote lead. That’s because some punch cards that weren’t counted because “hanging chads” blocked the little holes will now be counted–and in the four pro-Gore counties involved, most of these “undervoted” ballots will be for Gore. According to the Washington Post, there are 26,000 undervotes in the four counties, which can be expected to “produce a net gain of about 500 or more votes for Vice President Gore.”

Then if the overseas ballots don’t re-establish a Bush margin, he’s in deep trouble. Bush might have asked for manual recounts in pro-Bush areas, in order to harvest his hanging chads. But he’s now apparently let the 72-hour deadline for requesting such recounts pass in the vast majority of counties (53 out of 67). Instead of asking for his own recounts, Bush has opted for a sure-to-be-lost federal lawsuit attempting to block the manual recount entirely.

Maybe Bush counselor James Baker has some subtle long-term Florida strategy that escapes me, but it sure looks like bad decision-making by the Bush team. First, Bush locked himself into a “give up, the election’s over” posture before the final votes were counted. That turned out to be a misreading of public and elite opinion, which seems to be settling on the conclusion that it’s perfectly legitimate for Gore to ask for any recounts provided by law (just not revotes of the sort that might be produced by the much-hyped “butterfly ballot” grievance). Next, Bush locked himself into a “no manual recount” posture–sacrificing his own ability to ask for manual recounts.

As a result, Bush may lose the state, and perhaps the presidency, even though a broader manual recount might show him with the most votes. If the past week has given us a preview of the tactical brilliance Bush’s team would bring to the White House, it’s no great loss.

Photograph of George W. Bush on theSlateTable of Contents and on the MSN Sidebar by Rick Wilking/Reuters.