Let the Campaigns Begin! (Again)

  • Share
  • Read Later
It's like the election never happened. (And in a way, of course, it didn't). We all thought we'd wake up Wednesday morning with a new President-elect, a fresh mandate and, if we were really lucky, a blessed dearth of campaign commercials. Instead, the country is mired in a bizarre and changeable impasse, with reports and predictions changing several times an hour. In Florida, Nashville and Austin, the campaigns, poised just 48 hours ago on the brink of victory or defeat, are saddled up again and spinning with all their collective might.

Wednesday, Gore campaign manager Bill Daley appeared in Florida, flanked by former secretary of state Warren Christopher, to discuss the legal options available even after the Florida recount is completed. Bush campaign advisor Karl Rove took to the airwaves Thursday to decry the voter outrage in Florida, holding up a "real" replica of the state ballot in hopes of illustrating its simplicity. Rove also pointed out that votes in Arizona, Colorado, Washington State, California and, of course, Oregon are still outstanding. He says he's confident the majority of these votes will swing Republican, pushing Bush past Gore in the popular vote.

There's a danger there. If Rove is counting on the popular vote to vindicate Bush, he's lending that ostensibly empty count a new weight. Gore could easily maintain his popular vote victory, and Republicans should be very careful about ascribing the ultimate outcome to anything but the electoral college results.

Thanks to the strange twists of the last two days, numbers, critical as they remain, are not the whole story any more. Now, it's all about the attitude, stupid. Both campaigns have attacked this new and unforeseen challenge with vigor, struggling to present their candidate as the most well-behaved and least petulant — in short, as more "presidential" than the other guy.

Gore advisers are visibly irked by Bush, who's been making presidential noises out in Austin, hinting broadly at Cabinet appointments and transition teams. Gore, for his part, has a whole team of surrogates to do his dirty work; at Wednesday's press conference, Gore stood behind a very Clintonesque podium and gave brief, controlled and very dry remarks. When he was finished, he walked away, leaving Christopher and Daley to deal with the assembled press corps. The entire Gore family is reportedly heading back to D.C., where the vice president will resume his duties while presumably exuding the most executive air he can possibly muster.