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Bush says he's bearing up well under recent stress

©Associated Press

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 23, 2000

AUSTIN, Texas -- A full plate on Thanksgiving usually means turkey and fixings. George W. Bush, though he's home for the holiday, has a plate overflowing with less pleasing items, from controversy over his running mate's heart attack to the long-count fight for the presidency.

The Texas governor, stepping off the sidelines for the first time in days, sought to take charge of the campaign's message Wednesday, appearing on national television to reassure the nation that Dick Cheney was healthy and to criticize the Florida Supreme Court's action on ballot recounting.

Bush said at a midday news conference that tests showed Cheney, who had had three heart attacks, didn't suffer a fourth one. Though Cheney suffered chest pain and then surgery to clear an artery, "he did not have a heart attack," the governor said.

But, in an unsettling twist, doctors later contradicted Bush, saying the 59-year-old former defense secretary had experienced a "very slight heart attack."

Bush had not been told that, said Ari Fleischer, a spokesman for the governor.

On the campaign, Bush strongly criticized Florida's Supreme Court for allowing recounts to continue in his close contest with Democrat Al Gore.

"I feel the court overstepped its bounds," he said. "I think it was a reach."

Bush said he and Cheney were the winners in Florida, the state that will decide the presidency. But his lawyers still were filing a U.S. Supreme Court appeal against the state Supreme Court more than two weeks after the presidential election he believes he won.

Bush spoke after a tumultuous eight hours in which he sustained a Tuesday night blow from the Florida court's decision and then received a 5 a.m. phone call from Washington with news that Cheney had gone to the hospital with chest pains.

Though unsmiling through much of his talk -- his first news conference in several days -- Bush said he was bearing up well under the stress.

"I feel great," he said. "I believe I'm going to win, particularly if the vote is accurately and fairly counted. I'm looking forward to a good Thanksgiving meal . . . with my family."

Bush planned to have his Thanksgiving meal with his wife Laura and daughters Jenna and Barbara at a friend's home in Austin. The family was then leaving town for a few days at his ranch in Crawford, about a two-hour drive.

No other Bush family members were expected in town for Thanksgiving, aides said.

Bush had joked many times on the campaign trail that a family Thanksgiving dinner might not be a Norman Rockwell moment if he didn't win Florida, where brother Jeb is governor.

"Little brother, he recognizes that Thanksgiving might be a little chilly if things don't go well," Bush had quipped.

The Texan had tentative plans to return to the state Capitol on Saturday, said spokeswoman Karen Hughes.

Crafting a strategy to respond to the Florida court ruling frustrated the Thanksgiving plans of some of Bush's top advisers in Austin.

Hughes, who canceled her plans to spend Thanksgiving in Dallas, said campaign staffers are weary after the emotional up and down of this most unusual presidential election, but are pressing on.

"I heard someone compare it to a marathon," she said. "You think there's a finish line and as you cross it someone says, "Oh by the way, it's not over,' "

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