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Bush camp says he has won

Sun Reporter

George W. Bush's campaign said yesterday that a recountconfirmed that he had won Florida's election and called on Al Gore toreconsider his decision to support court fights and further recounts in thestate.

But the Gore campaign rejected the suggestion, insisting that "thiselection is not over." Florida's pivotal electoral votes remain up for grabs,with thousands of absentee votes still to be tallied.

Bush told reporters that "the quicker this gets resolved, the better off itis for the nation." But the Texas governor refused to predict when that mighthappen, and any resolution appears to be at least a week away.

Officials in several Florida counties have begun recounting thousands ofballots by hand, a process that could take days.

Bush's micron-thin lead statewide is down to 327 votes, according to thelatest Associated Press count.

Street protests over the election, mostly by Gore supporters seekingrevotes, continued in Florida and in the Texas capital. Anti-Bushdemonstrators could be heard from inside the mansion where the governor andhis transition advisers were meeting.

Yesterday, both sides continued to trade sharp retorts, though at asomewhat lower volume than they had Thursday.

The vice president's campaign muted its earlier threats about backing acourt challenge, after some fellow Democrats reacted negatively to that idea.But Gore campaign chairman William M. Daley said his legal team is convincedthat a disputed ballot in Palm Beach County was "unlawful" and is stilllooking at court options.

Bush officials warned that they would retaliate - and predicted a warwithout end in the courts. They added that they might ask for recounts inother states where Gore appears to have won narrowly, including Iowa,Wisconsin and Oregon.

"Let the country step back for a minute and pause and think about what's atstake here," said former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, who is headingthe Bush team in Florida.

"This may be a last chance to do that. There is no reasonable end to thisprocess if it slips away."

In a late-night conference call Friday, Bush gave Baker authority to seek acourt injunction barring the manual recounts, according to several GOPofficials involved in the discussions. The officials said it was very likelythe injunction would be sought, but stressed that it was up to Baker to makethe final decision.

A source close to Baker said the former secretary had not decided. Theofficials spoke on condition of anonymity.

Top Bush aides said the Gore forces were trying to win through unfair,extralegal means by asking for repeated recounts, which could lead to atime-consuming hand count of hundreds of thousands of Florida ballots.

Privately, Bush advisers expressed nervousness about the results of a handcount. In public, they suggested that it could lead to "tampering" with theelection.

For the second day in a row, the campaigns projected contrasting images oftheir candidates to the nation, as they battled for the high ground of publicopinion.

Each side said it was determined to put the interests of the country abovethose of its candidate, while raising questions about the motives of theopposition.

A businesslike Bush was shown going about the work of putting hisadministration together. He spoke briefly with reporters before meeting withtop transition aides in Austin, Texas.

The governor's language was more restrained than it had been earlier in theweek, when he voiced confidence about becoming the new president.

Bush referred to his plans for "a potential administration" and said he was"pleased" with the results of the recount in Florida. He added that it wasstill "a little early" to make contact with members of the outgoingadministration, which would normally occur at about this point.

"There are still votes to be counted," Bush said.

Seated around him at the governor's mansion were several figures who wouldbe key members of a Bush administration. They included his running mate, Dick Cheney; chief economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey; top foreign policy adviserCondoleezza Rice; and Andrew Card, a former transportation secretary who isthe likely chief of staff in a Bush White House.

Bush sported a bandage on his right cheek. His spokeswoman, Karen P.Hughes, said he was suffering from a "minor infection," perhaps a boil, thatwas being treated with antibiotics.

Gore, for the second day in a row, kept his profile deliberately low andmade no public comments about the election. Reporters and photographers wereushered onto the grounds of the vice president's mansion to watch the Gorefamily engaged in some touch football.

"I think we're going to win this game. We're ahead 6-0, so I'm veryoptimistic," Gore said, when asked about the election. "I'm talking about thetouch football game," he added, with a grin.

Behind the scenes, however, Gore was conferring with aides and Democratsaround the country as his political fate hung in the balance. The vicepresident called a top aide to the Oregon secretary of state to ask how thecount was going there, the Associated Press reported.

Gore was declared the winner in Oregon yesterday, three days after theelection. But his margin in New Mexico was down to 119 votes, with more than1,600 damaged ballots yet to be counted.

In Tallahassee, Fla., top campaign officials held competing newsconferences as the long counting process there headed toward its second week.

Baker, the top Bush strategist on the scene, bluntly warned against an"endless" spiral of recounts and legal wrangling in Florida and other states.

But the Bush forces "can't just sit on our hands," he added. "We will beforced to do what might be in our personal interest" if the Gore campaigncontinues to contest the results once thousands of overseas absentee ballotsare counted next Friday in Florida.

Baker said he felt sympathy for Gore's plight. "It is frustrating to losean election by a narrow margin, but it happens," he said.

"It happened to the Republican presidential candidates in 1960 and in 1976.Both Vice President Nixon and President Ford put the country's best interestfirst. They accepted the vote for the good of the country," said Baker, whoran Ford's campaign.

After the 1960 election, Nixon boasted that he chose not to pursue fraudcharges in Chicago, where a switch of only a few thousand votes would havegiven him the state. But Illinois would not have given him enough electoralvotes to defeat John F. Kennedy.

In 1976, 11,125 more votes in Ohio and 7,400 in Hawaii would have givenFord enough electoral votes to win.

While the Bush side continued to press for closure, Democrats pleaded withthe public for patience.

Gore's top representative in Florida, former Secretary of State WarrenChristopher, responded mildly to Baker's threat of retaliatory recounts inother states. "Perhaps they have an obligation to do so if they regard thecount as inaccurate," he said.

Daley, the Gore chairman, said that it was "inappropriate" to declare avictor before all the votes were counted and denied that Democrats were undulyprolonging the process. He praised the decision of three Florida counties,including Palm Beach, to begin a test count, by hand, of selected ballots.

The day began with the news that an unofficial recount of all 67 Floridacounties had whittled Bush's lead from 1,784 votes to 327.

That was enough, however, for the Bush side to renew its claim of victoryin the state. Republicans contend that the only votes left to be counted -overseas absentee ballots - will favor their candidate as they did for GOPnominee Bob Dole in 1996.

"The Democrats are now trying to change the rules because they don't likethe outcome," said Hughes, the Bush communication director. "But that's notthe way we do things in a democracy."

Democrats, meantime, appeared to be playing down earlier claims aboutGore's advantage in the popular vote nationally, with a complete tallypossibly weeks away.

The latest count shows Gore leading Bush by fewer than 200,000 votesnationwide, a slight drop from the previous day.

The Democrat also leads in electoral votes, by 262 to 246, with NewMexico's five and Florida's 25 undecided. It takes 270 electoral votes tobecome president.

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