Sometimes a decision made in the heat of partisan battle has reverberations for years to come.
One such decision was the one of Al Gore's campaign to selectively challenge the results of the 2000 election in Florida by demanding hand counts of votes cast in three counties -- Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. The latter two produce huge majorities for Democratic candidates, and the election officials in charge of the hand counts were Democrats. In other words, Gore sought new counts only in areas where he was likely to gain votes and would not take the risk of a statewide hand count, where those gains might be offset by others for George W. Bush.
We know now that, thanks to the news media consortium that recounted ballots in every Florida county, recounting under any method and any criterion they tested would not have overturned Bush's exceedingly thin plurality.
But the Gore campaign, Terry McAuliffe during his four years as Democratic National Chairman and John Kerry in his 2004 presidential campaign encouraged rank-and-file Democrats to believe that the election was stolen. They decided to delegitimize an American election for partisan gain. And in the process, they did much damage to George W. Bush and the Republicans, to the reputation of the American political process and, inadvertently but to a far greater extent, to their own Democratic Party.
The damage to Bush was obvious. A large minority of Americans has regarded him as an illegitimate president. That has weakened his ability to work across party lines and has helped to maintain the intense polarization of the electorate. It made it more difficult for him to win re-election in 2004.
The damage to the Democrats, I would argue, has been greater. Many of them remained focused during the first Bush term on the Florida controversy, and have done less than they might have to produce attractive new policies. McAuliffe predicted that anger over the Florida result would defeat Gov. Jeb Bush in 2002. But Bush won with 56 percent of the vote. Democrats hoped that anger over Florida would produce a huge turnout in 2004. John Kerry did win 16 percent more popular votes than Al Gore. But George W. Bush won 23 percent more popular votes than he did in 2000.
What might have hurt the Democrats even more, perhaps, is if Gore's strategy had been successful and he had been installed as president, thanks to the partial hand count sanctioned by the six-to-one Democratic-appointed Florida Supreme Court.
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