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For both, relatives help cushion frantic final day

©Associated Press

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 14, 2000


WASHINGTON -- George W. Bush and Al Gore turned to family in the final hours, a time filled, too, with the chatter of advisers and the rustle of fingers rifling through paper in search of the essence of the Supreme Court opinion.

Bush phoned his parents Wednesday and got them out of bed.

If the nation's 41st president had any profound words for his son, now to become the 43rd, they were not disclosed. Bush quoted George and Barbara Bush as saying, "Thanks for the wake-up call."

Bush began wrapping up duties as Texas governor and went to the University of Texas to work out. "Ha ha," he said, not rising to the bait when asked a gaggle of questions, including whether it was all over.

* * *

The high court decision against Gore on Tuesday night left his lawyers and aides at once fatalistic and fidgety. Angry at the naysayers in their own ranks, they got busy probing his evaporating options during one more overnight of overtime.

The beginnings of a legal strategy emerged, however improbable or impolitic.

How about trying to convince the Florida Supreme Court that Tuesday was not a final deadline after all? The U.S. Supreme Court may have left open that possibility by a hairline crack. Perhaps more Florida ballot counting could be done under a standard acceptable to the U.S. Supreme Court, the thinking went.

Calls went out after 2 a.m. Wednesday to some county officials in Florida. A Gore representative asked Democrat Bill Cowles, the Orange County elections supervisor, whether his counting software could be reprogrammed to "keep this thing going."

Cowles, annoyed, said you'd have to call the vendor.

Do you have his number?

No.

Last-minute trails like that went cold.

* * *

Gore sealed his decision to concede in a morning phone conversation with campaign chairman William Daley, who was still at his Washington apartment.

The statement went out from his camp shortly after 10 a.m.: "The vice president has directed the recount committee to suspend activities. He will address the nation this evening."

The Gores were opening the vice presidential mansion Wednesday evening for a long-scheduled holiday party with friends, including rock musician Jon Bon Jovi, who had enlivened Gore's campaign events right to the end with renditions of his song Living on a Prayer.

Because the Naval Observatory was overrun by festivities, Gore's aides picked the vice president's office in the Old Executive Office Building on the White House grounds for his concession speech.

For the past 24 hours or so, the vice president's home had been off limits to his staff.

Daughter Kristin, 23, described as the most emotional of the children and the only one to cry when Gore conceded Nov. 8 before taking his concession back, had been at her father's side through the ordeal. Son Albert III, 18, also was close at hand.

Daughter Sarah, 21, hastened from Harvard to her father's side late Tuesday. Gore's eldest, Karenna Gore Schiff, 27, flew to Washington from New York on Wednesday morning.

In the minutes after the ruling, Tipper Gore typed with her thumbs on the tiny keyboard of her Blackberry pager, zapping calming messages to her husband's worried aides. "Hang tight with me," one of her notes read. "We're trying to figure it out."

Gore's running mate, Joseph Lieberman, watched developments on television Tuesday night with his wife, Hadassah, in their Washington home. On Wednesday, he went for a walk.

* * *

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas spoke Wednesday afternoon to 35 Maryland high school students. The event was planned months ago but came a day after the court essentially shut down Gore in a 5-4 ruling that supporters of the vice president plainly saw as partisan and political.

An extraordinary intervention by the court was followed by the rare opportunity to hear a justice talk about it, however indirectly.

"I plead with you, don't try to apply the rules of the political world to this institution," said Thomas, a GOP appointee who was part of the majority. He waved a pocket-sized copy of the Constitution and said, "We have no axes to grind. We just protect this."

* * *

Austin, like Washington, turned biting cold.

As Austin weather deteriorated in advance of an ice storm, Bush sent state workers in his office home and spent most of Tuesday in the Governor's Mansion conferring with Andrew Card, his choice for White House chief of staff. Card rushed home because of the death of his mother-in-law.

Bush caught part of the court ruling on TV, aides said. Supporters showed up outside the mansion, braving the freezing rain. Cars honked.

* * *

In the confused aftermath of the court decision, the mood reached a flash-point inside Gore's Florida headquarters when aides saw two of their own on TVs blaring in the background.

Both Ed Rendell, the Democratic Party general chairman, and Laurence Tribe, the Harvard professor who had argued Gore's case in an earlier Supreme Court round, talked about how the ruling was probably the end of the line for the vice president.

"I can't believe that there will be an Act III in the court," Tribe said. "Extremely little wiggle room."

"He should act now and concede," said Rendell, a former Philadelphia mayor.

"He's off message. That's not our position," one senior Gore aide screamed into a cell phone in Tallahassee, scrambling to get Joe Andrews, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, to issue a statement disowning the comments.

Within minutes, Andrews was spreading the word that Rendell was not speaking for the party.

The blunt Rendell amended his comments somewhat before the night was out. On one news show, he said Gore absolutely had the right to take a "little time" to think about what to do next.

Tribe called CNN seeking to soften his talk of a concession. Anchor Bernard Shaw made the task difficult, reading his earlier comments back to him to leave no doubt the lawyer had said what he'd said.

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