The ever-murkier presidential election continues to lead all around. Of the majors' main headlines, only the Washington Post 's does not mention yesterday's biggest development: that Al Gore's campaign vowed to go to court to contest the Florida vote count. And all the lead stories have the result of The Associated Press's own informal tally of all but one of that state's counties: the Bush lead there is now approximately 229 votes.
What the Gore campaign wants, USA Today explains high, besides the current by-machine recount in Florida is a by-hand count in four of its counties. The WP reports high that Gorists have also suggested a new election for Palm Beach County, where a confusing ballot layout may have led thousands of Gore voters to accidentally vote for Pat Buchanan.
Although the two candidates are maintaining a low profile, the papers capture the sharp words of their seconds. It's widely noted that Gore's campaign manager, William Daley, accused the Bush team of trying to "presumptively crown themselves the victors, to try to put in place a transition," and that in doing so, of running "the risk of dividing the American people." As is the parry to that royalist reference by Bush chief strategist Karl Rove, who likened the disputed Palm Beach ballot to one used currently in Cook County, Illinois. The New York Timessays this "seemed" to be a reference to longtime accusations that Daley's father, then-Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, manipulated the vote on his turf in favor of John F. Kennedy.
The Los Angeles Timesoff-lead goes long with a more serious countermove than that Cook County debater's point: the possibility that Republicans are considering demanding recounts of their own "in enough close states to possibly push Al Gore below an electoral college majority even if he wins Florida." States such as Iowa, Wisconsin, and Oregon, where Gore currently holds narrow (less than 7,000 vote) leads. The story attributes all this to an unidentified "senior GOP operative," who, referring to the way a local Balkan dispute led to World War I, goes on to say, "Once you start the process, the idea that it is going to stop in a couple of Democratic counties in Florida is ludicrous." He adds, "You are sliding toward a very dangerous situation that is not going to be over in a week or two."
The LAT story says Karl Rove insisted Thursday there are no plans to seek recounts in Wisconsin or Iowa. But it also quotes that aforementioned key unnamed source as saying, "Being lectured about the sanctity of ballots by anybody named Daley is more than any Republican can stand." Hmmm ... does the LAT name Rove in the story to suggest that Rove isn't the unnamed source in this same story? The unnamed source makes the Cook County comment, which in the other papers is only attributed to Rove. And by the way, the NYT lead reports that Karl Rove has discussed possible recounts in Iowa, New Mexico, and Wisconsin.
An inside NYT story cites a law scholar who says that since the Constitution only requires a president to gain the vote of the majority of electors actually appointed, the Electoral College can meet and select a president next month even if Florida doesn't vote. Problems with the story: 1) The headline (online at least) simply states this as a fact; 2) The lead paragraph says this is the opinion of scholars (plural), but the story only digs up one to so opine.
The papers also try to quantify the extent to which absentee ballots can affect the election's outcome. The WP lead says as many as 1,500 Florida absentee ballots are coming from people living in Israel who would be voting for Gore in part because his running mate is Jewish. The USAT lead cites an AP estimate that there are a total of 5,000 Florida absentee ballots coming from overseas. The Wall Street Journal election front-pager says it's "thousands." Both the WP and NYT leads make a point first noted in yesterday's LAT: It's conceivable, especially given the million-plus absentee ballots to be counted in California and elsewhere, that Gore's popular vote edge could narrow. Or indeed, they should have added, it could turn into a popular vote favoring Bush.
The LAT, WP, and NYT all run editorials chiding the partisan positioning by both election camps. The USAT lead also goes high (and the WP lead goes low) with oil being poured on these roiling waters by Jimmy Carter (who could be forgiven for thinking he's still on an Ivory Coast election monitoring gig), who gave a press conference to ask the American people to "join me in being patient."
The NYT, LAT, and WP front news that yesterday, an Israeli helicopter killed a Palestinian paramilitary commander they viewed as the mastermind of shooting attacks on Israeli soldiers by hitting his car with missiles in a pre-planned operation. None of the headlines mention that two noncombatant women passers-by were also killed in the attack.
A quick check of how election-centric the papers are right now: That attack took place while Yasser Arafat was in Washington meeting with President Clinton, which the WP saves for Page 39.
The WP cites a New York Post report of Trent Lott's reaction to Hillary Clinton's election to the Senate: "When this Hillary gets to the Senate--if she does, maybe lightning will strike and she won't--she will be one of 100 and we won't let her forget it." Hey, isn't the Secret Service supposed to pick up people who make cracks like that?
When it comes to Ralph Nader, the NYT's Tom Friedman isn't making with the death threats. He has a better idea: Whoever finally becomes president should name Nader the first U.S. ambassador to North Korea. "That way Ralph can spend his days with another egomaniacal narcissist, Dear Leader Kim Jong Il, and get a real taste of what a country that actually follows Mr. Nader's insane economic philosophy--high protectionism, economic autarky, anti-markets, anti-globalization, anti-multinationals--is like for the people who live there."