Gore One Step From the Brink

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Al Gore makes his case

Al Gore is one ruling from the precipice.

No, the U.S. Supreme Court didn't exactly rule against him Monday, but it didn't give him much to crow about. And Judge Sanders Sauls, after a long lost weekend of evidentiary hearings and legal arguments, gave Gore absolutely nothing of what he asked for except a make-or-break in the Florida Supreme Court. It was a very bad day for him legally. Does the chorus of "Gore must go" start tonight too?

On the talk shows, in the Beltway, in outer Republican circles, absolutely — its started already. But not in Austin. George W. Bush, in his pool-camera photo-op Monday after the Supreme Court non-ruling, stopped resolutely short of Dick Cheney's "I do think he should concede" statement on Sunday. And Bush, so slow to the microphone throughout the legal wrangling, won't be at all tempted to join Cheney on the hard line now. He can afford to be quiet now.

Al's last chance

Democrats are hanging in there, partly because Gore had been preparing them for a defeat in Sauls' court all week. Hill leaders Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle weighed in again for Gore Monday — nixing a press conference in favor of a written statement — but the word is this will be Al's last chance to connect.

The Florida Supreme Court takes supplemental briefs from Gore and Bush lawyers Tuesday at 3 p.m. on the case SCOTUS sent back to them for retooling, and by then court spokesman Craig Waters will likely have announced the arrival of the Sauls hand-count appeal, which Gore still thinks he can win on legal grounds. Sauls' sweeping "burden of proof" rejection may well have been an acknowledgment that David Boies was going to sue no matter what he did. So Sauls kicked the whole mess upstairs, and it'll be up to Florida's highest court — barring a 5,000-vote Seminole County nuke on Wednesday — to save Gore now.

Bush's choices

If Gore gets his hand counts — depending of course on what combination of Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade he gets — it will be Bush who will have to make a crucial calculation: Appeal all the way back up to the Supreme Court, or take his lumps and hope to win on the numbers one more time. (That's possible, especially if it's Miami-Dade and Broward on a tighter standard.)

But the Florida Supreme is a high court that just got its last bit of activism marked up with a red pen by the U.S. Supreme Court — and overturning a decision as resolute as Sauls' will take some work.

One more loss, and Gore really must go. Even David Boies says so.