St. Petersburg Times Online: Election 2000
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GOP governors put on a brave face

The Republicans, gathering in Pasco County, admit to a feeling of helplessness as the count drags on.

By CHASE SQUIRES

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 18, 2000


WESLEY CHAPEL -- Republican governors gathering in Pasco County for their annual conference acknowledged Friday that the Democrats did a great job getting out the vote this year.

But they conceded nothing more.

The governors chose Florida for their meeting, thinking it would offer a sunny, non-controversial setting. Gov. Ed Schafer of North Dakota, chairman of Republican Governors Association, said he never imagined the race between Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore would still be unresolved more than a week after the election.

That happened in part because of states with Republican governors that went for Gore.

Those states included Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, whose GOP governors said they learned some lessons this year but remained proud of the battle they fought. They said the party didn't take any votes for granted -- but the Democrats may have been a tad more aggressive.

"What I saw in Pennsylvania, in a way that I had never seen before in watching Pennsylvania politics, was an unprecedented effort in grass-roots politics," said Gov. Tom Ridge. "Particularly by organized labor, with a lot of support from African-American churches, to the point where they were doing voter ID, voter contacts, far more aggressively than they ever did before. . . . You tip your hat to them in that regard. It was all below the radar."

Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson said Republicans fought hard but lost by a slim margin in an election with a huge turnout.

Still, the governors were not ready to give Gore Florida's 25 electoral votes.

Republicans remained upbeat throughout the day. When word came that Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis wouldn't order Florida's Secretary of State Katherine Harris to include hand recounts in her final tally, the governors burst into applause and rose for an ovation that lasted more than a minute.

But the Bush victory was short-lived. A few hours later, the state Supreme Court blocked Harris from certifying the election until the justices hear arguments Monday.

"It's a feeling of a sense of helplessness in there," Ridge said of his colleagues, who were meeting behind closed doors. "I want to be hopeful, I want to be optimistic, but the people are just disappointed. We thought there would be some finality."

Bush's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, was noticeably quiet on the Florida recount Friday, skipping the day's news conferences. He welcomed his colleagues to the conference at Saddlebrook resort.

"I want to thank you, on behalf of my brother, for your incredibly hard work in a very tough and tight election," Jeb Bush said. "Were it not for Republican governors, I can tell you that the whole world wouldn't be in Tallahassee and West Palm Beach because the election would not have been as close."

He managed a joke when the governors discussed the high-tech industry during a morning policy session.

Noting that Florida had been transformed by technology, Jeb Bush joked, "You may not have noticed that if you saw the way the election ballots were counted."

George W. Bush, the governor of Texas, did not attend the meeting.

"As you can imagine, it's probably best that he stay away for a little bit," his brother said.

Ridge, once considered as a possible running mate for George W. Bush, said it would be unfair for anyone to assume Jeb Bush could have done more to assure his brother a victory.

Florida voters, he said, are known to be independent thinkers. George W. Bush was never guaranteed a win here, even with his brother's help, Ridge said.

"That was an unfair burden to put on Jeb," Ridge said. "This is not a slam dunk. This is just not a slam dunk. The toughest job in this state was being Gov. Bush's brother."

-- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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