Pleasant Pines, Virginia (December 2, 2002) -Dealt another courtroom setback in his two-year struggle to decertify the results of the 2000 Florida presidential race, an upbeat Al Gore today held an animated press conference in which he vowed to "continue my quest to insure that every vote counts, even those ones - the ones crawling around the wall over there - see?"
Now a resident of bucolic Pleasant Pines Sanctuary, the undaunted Democratic candidate and former vice president did not elaborate on his next legal move, only to say, "all options are on the table." He cut his remarks short as aides and nurses whisked him to an art therapy class, where it is said Gore is working on an important paper-mache project.
Gore's latest challenge to the long-disputed Florida election results was rejected Friday by federal appeals court Judge Marilyn Koeppe. In a terse one-paragraph decision rejecting Gore's motion for another Florida recount, she ruled that "plaintiff's brief appears to be a broken Jethro Tull 8-track tape, several crumpled Kit-Kat wrappers, and a lock of his own hair in a plastic sandwich bag."
Self-proclaimed US President George W. Bush was attending the G7 economic summit in Brussels and had no immediate comment on Koeppe's ruling.
It has been a difficult two years for the two presidential rivals as the 2000 Florida results remain in dispute. For Bush, it has meant negotiating budgets with a divided and contentious Congress, managing foreign affairs and trade relationships, and staging elaborate state dinners at the White House while facing the possibility, however remote, that his "presidency" might be overturned.
For Gore, the toll has perhaps been even higher.
Though it is now a dim memory for many Americans, Gore frequently appeared to have the upper hand in the early stages of the ongoing Florida election controversy, despite trailing in the ballot count. Using an unrelenting barrage of clever legal maneuvers, the Gore camp was able to keep pressure on the nascent Bush "presidency."
He initially sought, and received, a recount after election night returns showed him losing to Bush by a narrow 1,700-vote margin. Though a machine recount failed to reverse the results, his team was able to minimize the impact of absentee military ballots, using deft technical objections and shrewd butane lighters. He successfully petitioned the Florida Supreme Court for an extended filing deadline, mandatory hand counts and campaign contributions.
Public attention was riveted to the unfolding legal drama, and the television news networks capitalized on the worldwide fascination. Nightly talk programs presented and debated the various constitutional issues at stake, with networks competing furiously for the best legal minds.
The December premier of Litigator Squares on MSNBC was the opening salvo in the ratings wars. Hosted by Chris Matthews and featuring Geraldo Rivera as the center square, the quiz program showcased nine lawyers arguing Florida election law in a tic-tac-toe format, complete with 'Brady Bunch' video graphics.
CNN upped the ante with Ambulance Chasers! hosted by Roger Cossack and Greta Van Susteren. The popular game show, based on the classic Pac Man arcade game, featured computer animated attorneys pursuing arcane arguments and whiplash victims around a computer maze. Contestants were eliminated if they met the dreaded 'Constitution Ghost' before munching a video 'power pill.'
Just as Gore's legal challenges seemed to be gaining traction, his fortunes began taking a precipitous turn for the worse. Bush's "victory" was certified on November 26 after a frantic hand count in the disputed counties failed to uncover enough votes to overturn the results. Gore was dealt another setback after the US Supreme Court ordered in December 2000 that the Florida Supreme Court bulldozed and its grounds plowed under with rock salt.
Facing diminished legal options and wavering party support, Gore turned to the court of public opinion. Convinced that he was the true victor in Florida, he launched an aggressive public relations campaign to spread his message that "every vote must count, even if my voters can't."
His press conferences - at one point numbering eight per day - became a staple of daytime TV, and he aggressively sought out marathon interviews with unsuspecting reporters. CNN correspondent John King was treated for Stockholm Syndrome after a brutally awkward nine hour session with Gore.
While the candidate plied the airwaves, his legal team toiled to construct ever-more esoteric and experimental legal challenges to the Florida results.
His lawyers sought another recount of Miami-Dade, citing voter intimidation by "a vicious Republican street mob known as Hell's Preppies," who "stormed the courthouse steps in chopped E-Z-Go golf carts and brandishing shivs fashioned from Platinum Amex cards, all the while threatening to stomp innocent Teamsters with their hobnailed Topsiders."
When that appeal was rejected, Gore's legal team spearheaded an effort to de-certify ballots in Seminole, Duval, and 62 other Florida counties. Lead attorney David Boies argued the rogue counties violated federal equal-protection laws, because "unlike Palm Beach, they didn't let Carol Roberts count their ballots."
In subsequent and equally unsuccessful motions, the Gore team argued for the counting of dimpled ballots; the counting of imaginary ballots; the counting of imaginary counties; and that the state of Florida was "never technically readmitted to the union in 1865."
Despite his aggressive television schedule and frantic courtroom maneuvering, by mid December, time and public opinion began turning against Gore. Increasingly, Gore found himself the target of public disgust and ennui, with many blaming him for the prolonged election dispute and the 92% December drop in the NASDAQ.
In his Christmas Eve message Pope John Paul II asked the world's one billion Catholics to "pray, with all your hearts, that the big idiot finally buys, rents or leases a clue and just hangs it up."
Although a normal human being might have been discouraged by such events, Gore pressed on into the New Year.
The formal Electoral College vote, postponed by myriad legal challenges, was finally scheduled for January 14, but the Gore team had one trick left up its sleeve.
Bob Beckel, a long-time Democratic advocate and Gore confidant, had been secretly encouraging wavering Republican electors to switch their votes.
Unfortunately for Gore, the only switchers were Democrats and Bush pocketed a historic 536 - 3 Electoral College "victory."
In a small victory that would help heal his bitter wounds over the electoral debacle, Gore successfully persuaded most of the major news networks and newspapers not to refer to Bush as president, pending the resolution of his 1,236 ongoing court challenges.
In perhaps the hardest legal blow sustained by the Gore camp, the candidate was cited for criminal trespass and stalking during the January 20 "inaugural" of "President" Bush in Washington, DC.
Aboard official helicopter Marine Two for his final departure from the nation's capital, Gore was able to elude his guards and parachuted to the dais on the capitol steps, where Bush was swearing his oath of office.
A worldwide audience watched in horror as Gore was escorted away by Secret Service agents, some of whom were once assigned to him, as he suffered repeated handbag blows from Barbara Bush.
Thanks to the speedy work of his legal team and A-1 Bail Bonds of Anacostia, Gore was soon back on the campaign trail.
Taking his case directly to the American people, he purchased time on the QVC network, arguing that the presumptive Bush Administration was "illegitimate."
In the stirring 30-minute address, he reassured supporters that "the only thing standing in the way of the will of the people is three or four flimsily drafted restraining orders."
Gore struggled to remain in the spotlight as newly "inaugurated" "President" Bush surged to record 98% approval ratings. After Super Bowl XXXV, Gore sought to regain the upper hand and re-establish his presidential stature by calling the locker room of the New England Patriots. Unfortunately, the hapless team had failed to make the playoffs.
Finding it harder and harder to gain an audience in Washington's halls of power - even among fellow Democrats - Gore decided to move to Florida, where his legal team continued to press his claims in court.
Cash flow, however, proved to be a problem. By mid-2001, his legal bills mounted at the rate of $8 million per day. Worse, as a Beltway outsider, he found it increasingly difficult to raise contributions to his legal defense fund.
In a memorable August 2001 incident, he narrowly escaped an unruly mob of 1,700 lawyers in Ft. Lauderdale, including Boies, after their paychecks bounced.
Desperate to rekindle public interest in his struggle and running low on cash, Gore and his remaining volunteer legal advisors moved to Orlando to study voice and dance under the tutelage of Lou Pearlman, the famous 'boy group' impresario.
Touring as "Ballot Box Boyz" they earned critical brickbats for their off-key, if enthusiastic, performances of songs like "Oops I Didn't Punch Through" and "Baby I Need Your Chad."
The group was disbanded after a disastrous performance at a shopping mall in Bayonne, New Jersey, where they where pelted with a barrage of Orange Julius and Jolly Ranchers from enraged pre-teen girls. Having been bitten by the show biz bug, tenor Alan Dershowitz continues to pursue a solo career.
After the demise of the group, Gore enlisted the aid of Winifred Skinner, a former member a of Gore's citizen advisory council and remembered by many as the folksy "Iowa Can Lady."
Together, they roamed the remote highways of Florida in Skinner's Winnebago motor home, carefully combing road ditches for missing ballots while former MSNBC commentator Paul Begala kept a vigilant watch for surprise racist and homophobe attacks.
Tensions flared among the three as Mr. Gore's legal setbacks continued to mount. They were evicted from a KOA Kampground in Micanopy, Florida after a dispute over a propane hook-up. In early 2002 Begala quit the campaign to re-enter the media. He now works for Disney/ABC, where he is assistant maintenance operator for Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.
Perhaps the low point for Gore came in August 2002. An angry Skinner abandoned him at a Waffle House parking lot in Jacksonville upon discovering he had painted a crude presidential seal and "Air Force One" on the side of her motor home.
Heeding the advice of his family and close advisors, Gore soon after relocated his government-in-exile to Pleasant Pines Sanctuary, a sprawling residential campus in the wooded hills of northern Virginia, where CNSNews.com satirist David Burge obtained an exclusive interview with the Democratic hopeful, after having tackled Burge before he could reach the exit.
Gore said that Pleasant Pines' serene setting has helped him refocus his energy on the campaign. "My new advisors, Dr. Jim and Dr. Raju, have helped me discover new strategic insights," he explained. "Especially after my 'temple tickles.'"
Despite a busy schedule of art therapy and hallway wandering, Gore somehow finds the time for daily cabinet meetings. "We've got some amazing policy talent here," he noted. "My HUD Secretary, Dwayne, has the ability to see through lead, and Defense Secretary Fwippthchoink tells me he defeated the Zulus at the Battle of Franco-Boxer."
Gore said life at Pleasant Pines has also given him a new sense of spirituality. "Whenever I find myself getting depressed, I turn to Jesus," he said, tracing a figure 8 in the air with his forefinger. "He lives down in room 4C, and plays a mean game of ping pong."
Despite his numerous legal setbacks, Gore said he is "optimistic that the tide has turned and momentum is on our side." A recent poll by NBC News suggest that he may be right, as his disapproval rating has dropped to 28%. On a less positive note, the same poll indicated Gore's name recognition has dropped to 31%.
A self-described "hands-on" manager, Gore said he sometimes chafes under his new isolation and that he often "misses the hurly-burly of the Beltway."
However, he remains in contact with campaign veterans outside Pleasant Pines' electrified fence. He recently spoke by phone with running mate Joseph Lieberman, who is currently opening for Shecky Greene at Chuckleberries Dinner Comedy Club in Peekskill, New York.
Methodically combing a handful of strawberry yogurt into his hair, Gore said he has never wavered in his conviction that he is the rightful winner of the election.
"It's not about me, " he avers, "it's about the right of the American people to have the rightful, smartest, deservingest and most bestest president in office, isn't it, Father?"
Upbeat and jovial, Gore enjoyed several random chuckles as he discusses his steadfast conviction that he will eventually earn his rightful chair in the Oval Office. "My advisor, Dr. Jim, says I may soon earn outdoor privileges," he said.
"And boy, I can't wait to announce my re-election campaign."