Gore leaves fate in hands of the court

By Glen Johnson and Anne E. Kornblut, Globe Staff, 12/8/2000

ASHINGTON - Al Gore tightened the circle around himself yesterday as his political fate was put in the hand of judges.

The vice president watched the day's legal proceedings on television with running mate Joseph I. Lieberman and their wives before the couples headed out for a private lunch.

Aides said the Democrat remained upbeat as the Florida Supreme Court and two circuit court judges weighed their decisions in three cases involving the presidential election dispute, although they felt there was little they could do beyond appealing their losses - if public sentiment allows it.

''Everybody feels like we left it all in the court,'' said one top aide, speaking from a White House office as closing arguments droned on over a television in the background.

Another member of Gore's inner circle said the vice president was being told he may have until Dec. 18, the day presidential electors cast their ballots, to complete appeals or any resulting vote recounts. To date, attention has focused on a date six days earlier, Dec. 12, the day by which each state is supposed to name its electors.

Sensing victory, George W. Bush continued his preparation to assume the mantle of president-elect, receiving his third national intelligence briefing in as many days.

Later, the Texas governor bounded out of the Capitol in Austin, greeted a group of visiting fourth-graders, and acknowledged he had taken time from state business to receive a briefing from adviser James A. Baker III about the proceedings in Florida.

''We'll see what happens there,'' said Bush, still cautious after being proclaimed the winner a month ago, only to see the election slip into question an hour later.

Meanwhile, donations continued to pour into two fund-raising accounts that the Republicans created in the chaotic aftermath of the election, one for the recount in Florida and another for transition work.

Despite a $5,000 limit on donations, Bush has raised more than $3.4 million from thousands of donors for the recount, according to numbers posted on a campaign Web site. The transition fund, meanwhile, has already received over $1.5 million.

Several Massachusetts donors have given the maximum amount to the recount fund, including Richard Egan, chairman of EMC Corp., and Herbert F. Collins of Boston Capital Corp., according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

As his transition team in suburban Washington continued the technical work of bringing the post-election confusion to an end, Bush offered faint clues about his state of mind.

Approached by reporters as he left the Capitol shortly before noon, Bush said he didn't watch any of the morning's oral arguments in the Florida Supreme Court because he was in meetings. But he did acknowledge getting a followup briefing from Baker, the former secretary of state heading his recount team, and appeared in high spirits as he left the office to go for a workout and return home.

Later in the day, Bush met with Andrew H. Card, his choice for White House chief of staff, at the Texas Governor's Mansion for meetings about White House personnel and transition issues, said campaign spokesman Dan Bartlett.

Bush has said he has settled on much of the White House staff, and could start naming Cabinet secretaries quickly should Gore concede.

As for any inauguration festivities, transition spokesman Ari Fleischer said, ''We haven't gotten to that - yet.''

The Gores and Liebermans watched the Supreme Court proceedings at the US Naval Observatory, the grounds on Embassy Row where the vice presidential mansion is located. Afterward, the couples left for lunch at Cafe Deluxe, where waitresses called out, ''Good luck!''

Asked about his spirits, Gore replied, ''Hi, how are you, thank you.''

One top adviser, and a prominent Democrat in daily contact with the vice president, said those closest to Gore have remained united in supporting his court cases. Among the group are Gore's wife, Tipper, Lieberman and his wife, Hadassah, strategist Carter Eskew, Gore's brother-in-law Frank Hunger, and campaign chairman William Daley.

''There's always been complete unanimity that the Florida Supreme Court would be the court of last resort,'' the prominent Democrat said.

The Supreme Court is weighing whether to overturn a circuit court ruling from Monday that denied Gore's request for recounts in several Florida counties. Yesterday, two other circuit court judges heard appeals to throw out 25,000 absentee votes from Martin and Seminole Counties because Republicans added information to some 2,500 request forms for absentee ballots.

In a sign the legal action was reaching its climax, Gore dispatched Daley to Tallahassee to thank David Boies and the team of lawyers who have worked on a variety of cases and appeals over the past month.

''This entire proceeding has been based on one premise: that every vote should count,'' said Daley.

Globe correspondent Curtis Wilkie contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press also was used.