With Gore's prime-time vow to fight on and Joe Lieberman's morning refresher still hanging in the airwaves, Bush legal ombudsman James Baker spoke a few words about "19 or 20 days of counts and recounts and more recounts" and how transitions were tougher for the candidate "on the outside looking in." Then he introduced Bush's new legal sergeants to the world.
One by one they stepped to the microphone, like gray-haired Temptations in lawyer suits. Each one had a "myth" to debunk, and just as Gore did Monday night, each spoke quickly, as if cognizant of a ticking national clock.
"Myth" No. 1: That those much-ballyhooed 10,000 votes in Miami-Dade are "not counted." Irvin Terrell, a partner in Baker's Houston law firm, is in charge of this one. He also once defeated Gore legal eagle David Boies in court.
The line: Those 10,000 votes aren't votes at all, but merely "non-votes," since they went unread by the vote-counting machines. They represent only 1.6 percent of the total votes cast in the county, a lower percentage than in 34 Florida counties, not to mention in plenty of other places nationwide. "Not every person that comes to an election" votes for president, insisted Terrell. "When they say these votes are votes, they're wrong."
"Myth" No. 2: That Miami-Dade would have conducted a manual recount "if it wasn't for a Republican mob." Litigation specialist Fred Bartlit in charge.
The line: Miami-Dade stopped counting because of time constraints, not lack of crowd restraint. Bartlit quoted an independent Miami-Dade canvassing board member describing the GOP crowds there merely to protest the closed-to-the-press proceedings, Bartlit said as "noisy and peaceful." Lieberman and other Democrats' charges of thuggery, Bartlit said, were "designed to heat up the situation." Bartlit's job is to cool it off.
"Myth" No. 3: That the "butterfly ballot" in Palm Beach is unfair or illegal. Phil Beck, another partner in Baker's Houston law firm, in charge.
The line: The Democrats haven't shown much inclination lately to play this trump card, but with a revote suit before the Florida Supremes, the Bush camp is taking no chances. The Bush line? Too late. Bristow insisted that "anyone who has concern about the form of the ballot has to express it before the election." And besides, it was designed and approved by Democrats.
"Myth" No. 4: That the found Bush votes in Nassau County one of the three targets of the Gore contest are somehow illegal. Daryl Bristow, Bartlit's partner, in charge.
The line: "No one at no time declared these votes illegal," Bristow said. The 218 votes at issue "were real votes by real people" (sound familiar?) and the Nassau canvassing board "discovered on machine recount that these votes were not counted," so they went with their original total. Simple as that.
And Seminole County, where a suit independent of Gore's contest could wind up costing Bush thousands of votes? "We're not concerned about Seminole County," said Baker, not eager to give the low-profile suit which got a hearing in court Tuesday any additional publicity.
But the most significant message of the day may have been put forward by the lead Temptation, the natty, gray-maned Barry Richard. (Think of Baker as the band's manager.) Amid the legalese about the tortuous contest-phase give-and-take between the legal teams, Richard emerged with a plea very similar to Al Gore's: Be patient, because this is going to take a while.
Richard reminded reporters that this contest could have been started on Nov. 18 if Democrats had allowed Katherine Harris' original certification to proceed on schedule, but that Gore had made a "strategic decision" to delay it. (No myth there.) Richard promised the Bush team would work as fast as possible, but with all the trappings of a real trial witnesses, discovery, the whole nine yards they weren't about to surrender their rights to due process with the presidency on the line.
But neither Baker nor his five supporters showed much ability to close the moral door on Gore when it came to those 10,000 ballots in Miami-Dade. Asked how he could guarantee none of those ballots were discernible, if not machine-readable, votes, Baker paused.
"There is a proper system for conducting our election," he said of the machine-counting process. "They have not been manually counted, but neither have all these other votes... in Duval County and all these other states" in the election that didn't utilize manual recounts. Of course, the Bush team has a two-pronged attack on the hand counts: that they were unfairly selective, and that they were late. With a suit for each pending in the federal courts, Baker and his new band of lawyers are apparently not ready to choose which.