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Jewish World Review Nov. 28, 2000 / 1 Kislev, 5761

Roger Simon

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Politics isn't for sissies -- SINCE ELECTION DAY, America has been plunged into an unwanted civics lesson, but one in which checks and balances have been replaced by chads and challenges.

No branch of government -- executive, judicial or legislative -- seems to have the last word in Florida, where soundbites and certifications have so far signified nothing.

And the entity that Americans usually look to for finality, the U.S. Supreme Court, may not bring matters to an end no matter which way it rules because lower-court contests will continue in Florida regardless.

The only thing you can make book on, the Gore forces say, is that Al Gore has just begun to fight. "And we're fighting to the last breath," a senior Gore aide told me. "There will be no concessions."

As if anybody needed reminding, both campaigns appear intent on proving that politics isn't a game for sissies.

Republican leaders, who feel they have been forced to wander in the presidential wilderness for eight years because of what they consider Bill Clinton's mystical and unholy grip on American public opinion, are willing to scorch the earth as much as the Democrats are.

"It's ugly, and we'll fight to the bitter end," says one Bush campaign aide. And nobody is talking about roller coasters any more. They are talking about space shuttles: The victor is going to be in orbit and the loser is going to be in ashes.

Both campaigns are feeling the same pressures. Democratic interest groups such as labor and minorities, and Republican interest groups including the religious right don't care if a concession would make their man look more statesmanlike; they will take an ignoble victory over a noble defeat.

"Labor is demanding a fight to the death," says one Gore ally. And pressure is being applied to members of Congress. "The guys who leave us now will look like rats," says one Gore operative.

What keeps Gore going, according to his closest aides, is that "he won the popular vote, and he is absolutely convinced more people voted for him in Florida than voted for George W. Bush. People voted for him for a reason. And Gore believes to concede would be to let those people down."

Bush aides find this merely part of Gore's high-horse-on-a-low-road routine. "They don't have a higher calling, this is all about power and control," says a top Bush aide.

But there is balance point: Though it was once assumed that if Gore lost in 2000 he would be finished in terms of presidential politics, the nature of the loss and the fact that Gore received more votes than any other presidential candidate in history except for Ronald Reagan could make Gore a powerful candidate next time around.

But Gore must decide when, if ever, to pull the plug in 2000 to position himself for 2004. "He should serious consider it; he won the popular vote," says Rep. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. "He's been a great candidate. And if we see a nullifcation of the votes (in Florida), he'll always be the presumptive candidate."

As of now, his aides insist, it is the present and not the future that dominates Gore's daily life, which is made up of phone calls and e-mails to allies and members of the media urging support for his fight.

Although he is showing few if any signs of outward fatigue, his staff is exhausted. "If you had told me we'd be here after Thanksgiving, I would have thought you were crazy," says one top Gore campaign official, who sees the warfare lasting through mid-December, when the Electoral College is to meet and officially select a president. "The system grinds you down," says another.

The Bush camp is not exactly popping champagne corks, but they do feel they have the upper hand. "No outcome would overturn us winning" the manual recount, says a top Bush aide. But the Bush political team is also ready to kill all the lawyers on the legal team because what once looked like a good idea -- asking the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene -- has now delayed any possibility of Bush claiming final victory this week.

"This is not over," Lance Block, a Democratic attorney, says. "Florida's electoral votes were by no means decided (Sunday.)"

Maybe and maybe not.

The Democrats have been successful in diminishing the importance of certification, while the Republicans can say that if George W. Bush is not exactly president-elect, he is at least president-perhaps, and that is more than Gore can say.

It will all continue, but if the events of last week were not the beginning of the end, they seemed at least to be the end of the beginning. And for small favors we should all be grateful.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate