by Ron Fournier
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Lawyers for Al Gore and George W. Bush slogged through a second day of testimony about chads, voting machines and election statistics Sunday, while GOP running mate Dick Cheney said it's time for Gore to concede. Democrats said their options were few, but declared, "It's far from over."
As a Florida circuit judge promised a speedy resolution to Gore's historic election protest, the vice president braced for the next round of legal action and attended church, where he heard a sermon titled, "A Time for Waiting."
It was an apt metaphor for the longest, closest presidential contest in 124 years. Gore, testing Americans' willingness to wait as he exhausts his legal options, scheduled a late interview with CBS's "60 Minutes" as part of a personalized public relations blitz.
"I do think that it's time for him to concede," Cheney told NBC as allies for both candidates herded to the Sunday news shows nearly one month after Election Day. "So far, he's chosen not to do that -- to pursue other avenues -- and clearly that's his prerogative. But I think ... history would regard him in a better light if he were to bring this to a close."
Echoing remarks made by Bush on Saturday, Cheney said, "we may well be on the front edge of a recession here" and suggested economic conditions offer another reason to quickly settle the dispute. "We do in fact need to take into account those economic circumstances," he said, pointing to the Texas governor's massive tax-cut promise.
Gore allies said he won't consider quitting before Judge N. Sanders Sauls rules on his request for hand recounts in two counties and the Florida Supreme Court settles the appeal that will undoubtedly be lodged by the losing side. The vice president has one other life line: the U.S. Supreme Court is considering the case in separate action filed by Bush.
"It's the late innings," said Gore lieutenant Warren Christopher on CBS, "but it's far from over." The former secretary of state, appearing on CNN, charged that Cheney "is trying to hurry history along."
Democratic lawyers said privately they expected Sauls to rule against them, and were preparing an appeal to the state Supreme Court. Gore's advisers, frustrated by the pace and tone of Saul's hearing, said they needed a quick ruling from the judge or a high court to sustain the vice president's White House aspirations in light of a Dec. 12 deadline to seat electors and the Dec. 18 meeting of the Electoral College.
Bush laid low at his Crawford, Texas, ranch one day after meeting with GOP congressional leaders in a presidential-style summit.
Gore won the national popular vote by more than 300,000 votes, but without Florida he falls short of the 270 electoral votes required to win the presidency. The state's 25 votes would put Bush over the top by a margin of one.
Secretary of State Katherine Harris, a Bush ally, certified his minuscule lead Nov. 26, forcing Gore to take the unprecedented step of contesting a presidential election result or quit the race.
That led Gore to Sauls court, where lawyers slogged through hours of dry testimony from GOP witnesses. Gore's attorneys asked Sauls to quicken the pace or allow the recounts to begin before he rules.
Sauls rejected the request, saying he needs to determine that a recount is legal before ordering one. "That's what we're in the process of doing," he said, peering over glasses and rocking in his leather chair.
Delivering a boost to Gore's case, one Bush witness -- voting machine expert John Ahmann of Napa, Calif. -- testified under cross-examination that hand recounts are advisable "in very close elections." He said that was the only way to identify valid votes that resulted in so-called hanging chads -- disturbed ballots pierced by tiny holes or dimples.
Another GOP witness, police officer William Rohloff of Fort Lauderdale, said he did not intend to vote for president but may have dimpled the top of his ballot by accident.
"I don't believe that, especially on my ballot, that anyone can interpret my intent," Rohloff said, countering Gore's central claim that thousands of ballots with no presidential votes should be examined for any indentation that might hint at the voters' intent.
As the proceedings plodded forward in Tallahassee, both sides scrambled to shape public opinion.
Former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo appeared on "Fox News Sunday" at the behest of Gore, saying the vice president's case was strong and "getting stronger every day," though none of the recent events in Florida supported his claim.
Florida House Speaker Tom Feeney said the GOP-dominated Legislature is on the brink of a special session that could lead to a separate slate of Bush electors if the election remains snarled for much longer. "I'm convinced we have a duty to act unless the U.S. Supreme Court resolves this matter," Feeney said, though Senate leaders say no decision has been made. "We are not trying to steal any election."
Cheney said the Bush campaign does not control the Florida Legislature, but voiced support for legislative action that would, in effect, give Bush a backup plan in case Gore wins his court cases. "They do have constitutional obligations and responsibilities," he said.
Democrats protested. "It would be quite chaotic and disturbing to the country" if Florida lawmakers took over the election, said House Minority Whip David Bonior of Michigan.
Andrew Card, Bush's presumptive White House chief of staff, said he hoped that the state Legislature and the GOP-controlled Congress don't need to flex their constitutional power and get involved in the election -- but he didn't rule out either possibility.
The Justice Department announced that two investigators were in Florida to determine whether a federal inquiry is needed into alleged voting irregularities. Minority groups claim many voters were impeded by polling officials when they attempted to cast ballots.