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Presidential Race Too Close to Call; Florida Attorney General Discusses Recount

Aired November 8, 2000 - 7:33 a.m. ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to CNN's special election coverage. This presidential race too close to call. Right now, we are joined by Mark Fabiani. He is with the Gore campaign, a chief strategist there.

Boy, Mark, shades of Mark Twain, it looks like; it could be a report of the campaign's deaths were too premature.


LIN: Yeah.

FABIANI: That was quite a night. We are very proud of Al Gore this morning, all of us who've worked for him. He won the popular vote, he got the most votes across the entire length and breadth of this country. So, we are very proud of him. And we are looking forward to a quick resolution of the Florida vote count, so that Al Gore can be the next president of the United States.

LIN: Well, surely, you are taking a look at where the absentee ballots are breaking down and breaking out over the state of Florida. Who's missing? Are you still waiting to hear from Broward County, which is likely to go Democratic given its profile?

FABIANI: Yes, we have good reason to believe that a lot of the votes that are out there that still are to be counted are going to be votes for Al Gore. You know, people wrote off Florida, as you know, very late last night. They thought that George Bush would win it. And then very quickly, a 50,000-vote advantage for Bush narrowed now to what it is approximately 1000 votes. And we think that a thorough recount will narrow it even further and actually put Al Gore in the lead, which will give him the presidency.

LIN: Are you concerned about any balloting irregularities that we've been hearing about? For example, rumors of a missing ballot box, maybe some different ballots being given out in Palm Beach County, which...


LIN: ... you know, tends Republican?

FABIANI: Well, we've heard those reports as well, but we don't have any independent confirmation of those. And our focus now is simply on a recount, to get a fair count of all the votes that were cast in Florida. We'll feel very comfortable if that recount is handled fairly and honestly.

We have every confidence that there will be, despite the fact that Governor Bush's brother is also the governor of Florida, but...

LIN: But it's your ...

FABIANI: ... you know, we hope ...

LIN: ... it's your Florida state chair who's overseeing the recount, right, Bob Butterworth?

FABIANI: Well, we hope that the mix -- we hope that the mix of personalities and people down there results in something that's fair because that's what the American people deserve -- a fair count of the votes. And you know, we -- as I was said, we are very proud of Al Gore this morning. He won the popular vote and it's just that it's a great thing that Al Gore did last night.

LIN: Well, Mark Fabiani, I imagine he also overcame a heart attack earlier this evening. Thank you very much for joining us this morning.

FABIANI: Thanks for having me.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, let's move very quickly if we can to a man who's going to be quite busy today. And we know he's going to have a busy, a long day ahead of him. He is Florida State Attorney General Bob Butterworth, the man who's going to be charged with overseeing this recount of the votes in Florida.

General Butterworth, we thank you for your time this morning. We have to begin with the idea -- with the word, first of all, that you are the Gore chairman of the -- the chairman of the Gore campaign in the state of Florida. And that presents an obvious, to some, conflict of interest. Do you -- how do you handle that?

BOB BUTTERWORTH, FLORIDA ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's amazing how news stories come out. I am not in charge of overseeing any type of ballots as attorney general. I, of course, want the attorney general of the state that has -- that has the laws followed. And the law says that if an election is -- if it is within a half of one percent, there is an automatic recount, which of course is what's happening now. That recount is actually coordinated by all of our 67 supervisor of elections. There will be a county judge there, there will be a -- there will be a county commissioner there, there will be a someone watching from each one of the campaigns, as well as someone from the media.

So what will be happening is each one of our counties will be doing the recounts.

HARRIS: So, you're ...

BUTTERWORTH: I'm -- I'm the campaign chair; also I'm the attorney general, and I'm -- I'm just put in this position.

HARRIS: So, you're basically saying that you -- your role is just one of many roles that are being played by many others in the process of the recount.

BUTTERWORTH: Worst right now -- I mean, obviously, I'm concerned as everyone is, is that Florida's been in a position -- whether we asked for it or not, we've are put in a position of determining who the next president of the United States is going to be. So you -- we owe -- we owe something to the state, to the country, and really to the world, to make sure that whatever our vote might be, it's the accurate vote, it's the honest vote, and it's the vote of the people of the state of Florida. And that's what our supervise of elections are going to make sure.

HARRIS: And you are not concerned at all that should the vote come out -- should the recount come out on the -- in favor of Al Gore, that Republicans won't be charging that you had some sort of untoward influence over it?

BUTTERWORTH: I -- no way whatsoever. Nor would I say that the governor did. Neither he nor I will be involved in this process.

HARRIS: All right. What about the process? Can you -- can you take a second and describe how it works out for us? Is it done by hand or by computer, or what?

BUTTERWORTH: Mostly, all of our superintendents -- or supervisors of elections have computers, where all the ballots are now in their office right there. All they have to do is run them through their computers. The smaller counties that can hand count there is no problem. So -- but most of our large counties, if not all of them, we have the computers. It will be done quickly. It can be verified by the media, and...

HARRIS: How quickly is "quickly"?

BUTTERWORTH: Well, the last time they did, you know, I was involved in a race myself -- it's a number of years ago before it was as automated. And it took less than about eight hours. So I would hope that, by the end of today, that particular aspect of this issue will be over.

HARRIS: Well, there's one other issue, and speaking of ballots. There's a word this morning that, in Palm Beach County, there was some sort of different ballots as they've been described in certain reports. I don't know exactly what that means? Do you?

BUTTERWORTH: We received a number of complaints, both in my office and other offices, as to where it was a different type of ballot whereby the presidential candidates were not on one pages -- were not on one page, but were on two pages, and some people say it did cause confusion. We don't know that yet. We will not know that until we analyze all the returns from the entire state. So, I think it's too premature to say whether or not it was a problem or not.

HARRIS: Is it too premature for you to make a call on when do you think this will be called?

BUTTERWORTH: I really don't know. On That particular issue -- I'm not involved in that particular issue.

HARRIS: All right, thanks much for your time. We know you are a very busy man this morning. Florida State General Attorney Bob Butterworth, thank you much.

LIN: All right, coming up on 40 minutes after the hour. Let us go now to a representative of Bush's campaign in the state of Florida to see what's happening there.

Joining me is Al Cardenas. He is chairman of the Republican Party.

Good morning, Mr. Cardenas.

AL CARDENAS, CHAIRMAN, FLORIDA GOP: Good morning. Good to be with you.

LIN: I imagine it's been a long night for you.


LIN: We understand that, at first, when the networks were projecting that Gore was going to take the state of Florida, there were a flurry of phone calls between Bush's camp in Austin, Texas, to state party officials. Were you a part of that conversation and what was going on there in terms of challenging that first projection?

CARDENAS: Sure, as we saw that numbers that were coming in and we realized that there was a surplus of about 150,000 absentee ballots in our favor, we realized that it was really too early to call it. From the very outset, we told the people at the quarters of our party that we were not in agreement with the call, that we still thought we were challenging in Florida, and we would prevail. And after 10 hours of that process, it seems like that's what's happened.

LIN: Well, I imagine you're going to project that Governor Bush is going to win and take the state of Florida. So give us an idea -- what evidence do you base that assumption on at this point? Whose vote hasn't been counted yet, and where in the state are they?

CARDENAS: Well, one thing I -- you know, I heard the bit with the attorney general in Florida. I did want to clarify that under Florida law, statutorily, is the secretary of state who's responsible for overseeing the efforts of supervisors of elections at each of the particular counties in Florida. And so I am sure that she will be pretty soon talking about that.

My sense that some time tomorrow, we will have a final tally and we will know who the next president of the United States is. I'm confident it will be us. We have a good lead on the absentee ballots, as you know. We are projecting between 2500 to 3000 absentee ballots from abroad. We think we'll have a lead in those, that will give us a fair cushion. So our lead of 1700 votes, which is what we think we have now, will probably end up being about 2500 or 3000. So we think we've elected the next president of the United States, and we are comfortable with that.

LIN: Did you ever think it was going to get this close?

CARDENAS: No, not in our wildest dreams. And of course, if a story unfolds like I think it will, it will be really a story for historians to talk about for centuries. Imagine: It's a brother of the brother who's going to be the key state that allows his brother to become president of the United States in a cliffhanger, the likes of which we've never seen. It's most drama, I think, we've ever seen in politics, certainly in presidential politics.

LIN: Mr. Cardenas, what do you make of the demographic breakdown in terms of how the votes split in Florida? It appears by our polling that seniors were trending towards Bush, but it was the minority vote that was trending Gore. Do you see a demographic split in your state, in terms of whose interests are going to be represented in the White House?

CARDENAS: Well, the one surprise last night of course was that Ralph Nader received less than half of the votes that the polling and the tracking were telling us up almost to the election day. And I think that was one of the reasons the election was closer in Florida than we had thought.

Obviously Florida is becoming a more diverse state as we move on. Our party, in order to be successful in future election cycles, needs to get a bigger share of the minority vote. But the Hispanic vote in Florida responded very favorably; more than 50 percent voted for George Bush. Of course, we have our work cut out for us within the African-American community and need to do what we can to show them that there's a seat at that table and that we're going to be more inclusive.

LIN: Well, the Hispanic vote in Florida, typically Cuban Americans, which does trend Republican anyway. Thank you very much.

CARDENAS: Yes, it's about 50/50 now. Thanks.

LIN: Thank, Al Cardenas, for joining us this morning -- Leon.


HARRIS: Well, as we let go some folks in Florida get underway with their recount work, we wonder now: How many times has a recount actually changed result?

Let's go now to our Frank Sesno, who's standing by in Washington. He's got more thoughts on that -- Frank.

FRANK SESNO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Leon, that's a very germane question because now people are waking up to these results. They are hearing recount; they are hearing that out of all these votes cast in Florida, only 2000 -- less than 2000 or so votes separate Bush and Gore.

Charlie Cook, of "The Cook Political Report," we were talking about this a moment ago, as we were listening to the state attorney general. There have been recounts in the past. How often do they amount to something -- a change?

CHARLIE COOK, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: Let me make a distinction. The first day, they're really not recounting. What they are doing is they're just checking their arithmetic at each of the steps of the way, make sure if they transposed a three and an eight. And sometimes, the biggest changes -- or most of the time, the biggest changes that take place are in the first 24 hours after the election. Then you get into the recount where you start -- you are really checking back to individual machines. But it's just checking the math at all the steps along the way.

And you can see changes of, you know, a couple hundred votes very, very easily...

SESNO: A couple hundred -- not necessarily a couple thousand?

COOK: Well, a couple hundred in a congressional district. And so, if you talk about the state of Florida, that can -- that can really add up.

SESNO: And then you have absentee ballots you have to think about, too.

COOK: Absolutely. And given the push, both parties put a much bigger push than normal on absentee ballots in this election. There was a much greater use of it. And so there's going to be a bunch more of that. So, you know, I think we're talking days, week -- big time.

SESNO: Big time -- I won't quote you on that.

Charlie Cook, thanks.



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