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America still waiting
Stephen Sackur gauges public opinion in Gettesburg Pennsylvania
 real 56k

Monday, 13 November, 2000, 17:40 GMT
Analysis: The battle for public opinion
george w bush and dick cheney
George W Bush has sought to portray a presidential air
By US affairs analyst Gordon Corera

Welcome to the second US presidential election campaign of the year 2000.


Both want the presidency badly but both need to avoid looking too desperate

The first one, the one we all expected, finished on 7 November when the polls closed. The second one began only hours later when it was clear that the American public had failed to conclusively pick either Al Gore or George W Bush.

The campaigns are even raising funds again, sending out e-mails asking for contributions for a special fund to deal with the recount in Florida.

Campaign Number Two looks a little different but its underlying dynamic is the same as the first - the battle for public opinion.

Keeping up appearances

In campaign number one, candidates did this by travelling around the country to give the impression of energy, delivering stump speeches and talking about issues like Social Security and tax cuts.

But in campaign number two, the candidates do the opposite - they pretend they are not campaigning and are quite unfazed (yet confident) about the chaos surrounding them.

Al Gore leaves cinema with wife Tipper and running mate Joseph Lieberman
Gore has been seen relaxing at the cinema
George W Bush hangs out at his Texan ranch while Al Gore plays touch football with his family and then goes back to Washington to get on with his day job as vice-president. The Republican has even started talking about laying the groundwork for his new administration to create an aura of inevitability.

Public opinion is critical to this campaign. Just as with the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, both sides know that while the debate may be apparently all about legal manoeuvres, the way these are presented in the media and received by the public are critical.

If a candidate sees public support for their position ebbing away, they know that political support will follow and ultimately with it, any hope of victory.

Party politics

Each side is hoping they can paint the other as partisan and injecting politics into the process. At first the Bush campaign was winning the battle - it sat back and said that it was confident that its lead in the Florida vote would be certified and Mr Bush would win the 25 electoral votes and the presidency.


The Republicans want a quick conclusion to this vote while their man still has a lead

The Republicans were able to paint the Democrats as the desperate party willing to go to the courts and do what it took to overturn the vote. This resulted in signs of Democratic support weakening behind Al Gore, as Congressmen urged him to avoid prolonging the nation's agony.

But then as the issue of hand recount came up and Mr Gore began to pick up votes and close in on Mr Bush, the Republicans were forced to abandon the high ground and take out their own lawsuit to try to stop the seepage.

Demonstrators in Los Angeles call for a Florida recount
Public opinion is crucial to both sides
This has left the campaigns in a rough equilibrium - both want the presidency badly but both need to avoid looking too desperate and as if they are ignoring the will of the people of Florida.

The Republicans want a quick conclusion to this vote while their man still has a lead, while Democrats want every minute possible to recount and find some way of closing the tiny gap between Mr Gore and Mr Bush in Florida.

At the moment, more than two thirds of Americans say they think making sure the votes are counted correctly is more important than getting it over quickly. This gives Al Gore some time but not yet the votes. Advisers from both camps, who were probably expecting a holiday about now, are having to think fast on their feet.

No one yet knows when election day number two will finally come but just as much is at stake as the first time round.

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