The afternoon after making his big-picture plea for patience to the American people, Gore came out for reporters Tuesday with a new angle, courtesy of the new Bush legal team: My plan for the contest takes nine days. Theirs takes forever.
"This morning, we have proposed to the court in Tallahassee a plan to have all the ballots counted in seven days, starting tomorrow morning, and to have the court proceedings fully completed one or two days after that," Gore said. And then he said it again.
"Let me repeat the essence of our proposal today: Seven days, starting tomorrow, for a full and accurate count of all the votes."
The idea, of course was to light up the eyes of all the voters (and reporters) who were just resigning themselves to the glum idea that Gore was going to fight his contest of Sunday's certification to the very last day (December 12, with an option on January 20) and the very last lawyer.
"Unfortunately, just about an hour ago, Governor Bush's lawyers rejected this proposal," Gore continued. "Instead, they have proposed two weeks of additional court proceedings and additional hearings, right up to the Dec. 12 deadline for seating electors.... I believe this is a time to count every vote and not to run out the clock."
Bush communications director Karen Hughes was out within the hour with a typically clenched-teeth response about deadlines passed and recounts undergone (and got caught in a nasty semantic trap about why they weren't calling Bush "president-elect" yet), though she needn't have bothered the Bush lawyers in question had already prepared us for their rejection Tuesday morning. Barry Richard, Bush's version of David Boies, explained that Gore was dragging them into this contest at a very late date, having already gotten the Florida Supremes to delay certification by 11 days. And they certainly weren't going to wait around for a hand count in Miami-Dade that has already missed two deadlines, and wasn't necessary in the first place.
But the words of a desperate candidate and the image of a stack of 10,000 ballots untouched by human hands tend to overshadow the words of a lawyer and an angry spinner, and suddenly Gore has another deal in the air that Americans may understandably find attractive. Another deal that Bush will turn down. But not in person.
Gore certainly needed to turn the tables somehow. Tuesday saw a rash of newly released polls declaring that in the wake of Sunday's certification, a growing majority of Americans thought Bush was president-elect and Gore should concede. (How many just want somebody to concede was tricky to separate out.) A third of Gore's own supporters said they shared that view.
But when asked about those numbers, the Gore who Monday night thanked the American people "for taking the time to listen" didn't sound like he had anything to plead for anymore.
"Well, I said during the election to many of you that I didn't think the polls mattered. And on Election Day, sure enough, contrary to the polls, Joe Lieberman and I carried the popular vote nationally by 300,000 votes," Gore segued, while making a mental note to give that reporter a ton of access. "I'm quite sure that the polls don't matter in this, because it's a legal question."
And then, having just come out of a lunch with Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, Gore got in a quick comparative dig at his loudly transitioning opponent. Asked if he offered Summers a carryover job in a Gore administration, the veep demurred. "I personally do not feel it is appropriate to announce the names of Cabinet members or to formally offer positions," he said.
"We spent most of the time talking about economic policy."