Fla. Republicans Ready to Rumble

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Florida's President of the Senate John McKay, briefs reporters at the Capitol

Will the Florida legislature step in? It's likely, but not a foregone conclusion. House Speaker Tom Feeney says "the House is prepared to act" and order up a special session to mull naming a slate of electors if Al Gore's contest runs long in the courts. His counterpart, Senate President John McKay, says "the Senate will not be rushed to judgment... We have only one chance to get things right."

One chance before Dec. 12 (now a week away) to grab the spotlight's harsh glare, and possibly a place in the partisanship Hall of Fame. Republicans in favor of moving say the Constitution — "each state shall appoint, in such a manner as the legislature thereof directs, a slate of electors" — and federal law backs them up. They say Gore's backup plan is for no slate of Florida electors to go to Washington.

Al Gore weighs weighing in

And Monday, the Select Joint Committee on the Manner of the Appointment of Presidential Electors, which met last week, issued its report on the issue, decisively recommending the special session.

Democrats say it's all a lot of p.r. hooey, including McKay's sudden case of circumspection. Harris' certification is all the Republicans ever needed, goes their argument — why make any more trouble? But with the GOP in charge by 77-43 in the House and 25-15 in the Senate, that is decidedly a minority view.

Al Gore wants to help. The veep is gearing up for a major flack-and-lawyer assault against the legislature if it pulls the trigger on a special session and anoints Bush, Gore campers say. Part of that's preemptive, and already under way — a few ordered-up grassroots protests, an "orange ribbon" campaign on the ground in Florida, and a lot of loud talk from Warren Christopher, Joe Lieberman and Gore himself about how the people of Florida wouldn't stand for it. On "60 Minutes" Sunday night, Gore hit it again: "I can't imagine they would do that."

One hard charger meets another

Gore imagined it well enough that very day for his after-church inner-circle huddle Sunday to include Walter Dellinger, a constitutional scholar and former U.S. solicitor general. Nobody's saying what the plan is, but the acronym "SCOTUS" immediately springs to mind.

Tom Feeney isn't exactly quaking in his boots. Known as a sharp-witted, backslapping arch-conservative — think Tom DeLay with a winning personality — he's a hard charger who only snickers when he gets blasted in the papers. He was also Jeb Bush's running mate in his failed 1994 gubernatorial race — and his hard-right ideology was widely implicated in the loss. But if Feeney is afraid of playing the same p.r. albatross to Jeb's brother, he doesn't let on.

McKay, who needs to sign on for a special session to happen, is more the deliberative type, in a traditionally more deliberative body, and spotlight-shy. Like Feeney, he's new to his post. "All I wanted was the next two years for people to get along," McKay lamented recently, according to his majority leader, Jim King. "Now, I'm in the position of being in the most partisan battle in our history."

Things are tough all over.