Gore's hopes pinning on court, dimpled ballots

Democrat Al Gore had his hopes of winning the White House riding on a pending Florida Supreme Court ruling as well as an untold number of dimpled ballots on Tuesday while a leading backer said the vice president was ready to accept defeat - if and when necessary.

But Sen. Bob Kerrey, Nebraska Democrat, said Republican George W. Bush must also be ready to concede if the state's highest court and the final vote goes to Gore.

"Hey, let's be fair about this," said Kerrey. "Both guys have to be ready to concede defeat, and so far Gore is the only one being asked."

"Bush is acting like he is leading by more than a million votes" in Florida while he is actually ahead by less than 1,000, Kerrey told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"This race is a statistical dead heat," Kerrey said. "It could go either way. Yet Bush is painting himself into a corner by having his people make unfounded charges that Al Gore is trying to steal this election."

Kerrey, at the request of Gore, was in Florida on Tuesday helping make the vice president's case at news conferences and in a series of interviews.

With some polls showing the public growing impatient about when a winner will be declared in the Nov. 7 election, some Democrats have suggested Gore should make the Florida Supreme Court his final stand, and not push it further with another appeal if he loses there.

The court is expected to rule soon on whether to permit an ongoing hand recount in the states' final presidential tally.

Perhaps even more importantly, Gore hopes the court provides guidance on whether voters' intent should be considered in a hand recount.

Specifically, he wants to get counted thousands of unpunched dimpled ballots that have been temporarily set aside in some Democratic strongholds.

Gore and fellow Democrats contend an indentation next to the vice president's name should be counted as a vote for him.

With the vice president picking up fewer votes than he had hoped so far in hand recounts, dimpled ballots could make the difference between winning or losing the White House.

The vice president remained out of public view on Tuesday but in touch with lawyers, aides and supporters about the tug-of-war over Florida and its 25 electoral votes that will likely decide who is the next president.

"The vice president has been a rock, a pillar, throughout this," said Gore press secretary Chris Lehane. "In the face of daily highs and lows, he has maintained his equanimity."

Gore aides said while some Democrats have grown uneasy about the legal challenges, the resolve of others has grown stronger in response to Republican attacks.

Kerrey, a Medal of Honor winner in the Vietnam War who supported Bill Bradley in the Democratic primaries, became a point man in Gore's battle over whether to permit absentee ballots from military personnel not filed in full compliance with the law.

Democrats contend if those ballots are counted, Republicans should help clear the way to permit dimpled ones in Florida as well.

"Are they willing to do the same thing for 85-year-olds who simply didn't have the strength to punch through a punch court?" Kerrey said.

Kerrey, in an appearance on CBS's "Early Show," was asked if Gore loses in Florida Supreme Court would he suggest that the vice president accept the ruling rather than appeal it.

"I would suggest that," Kerrey said. "But where are the Republicans urging George Bush to do the same."

Kerrey, speaking to Reuters afterward, said, "I had a conversation with the vice president yesterday. He understands he may be declared the loser and is prepared to accept that."

"He knows he cannot appeal this infinitum," he said. "But we are not at that point yet."

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