Washington Vice President Al Gore, buffeted by a highly unfavorable court ruling in Florida, said Tuesday, "I don't feel anything other than optimistic" as he awaits a ruling on his appeal by the state Supreme Court.
At a news conference outside the White House, Gore stopped well short of saying he would concede the race for the White House if his appeal is rejected. "When the issues that are now being considered in the Florida Supreme Court are decided that'll be an important point," he said. "But I don't want to speculate on what the Florida Supreme Court will do."
Gore's effort to have George W. Bush's Florida victory overturned was rejected on Monday by Circuit Judge N. Sanders Sauls in Florida, who also rejected the vice president's request for a manual recount of questionable ballots in two Florida counties. The vice president's appeal will be argued before the state Supreme Court on Thursday.
But Gore also suggested strongly that he expected two additional lawsuits, relating to absentee ballots, to eventually make their way to Florida's highest court. "I do think it is likely that all of the current controversies will wind up being settled one way or another on the Florida Supreme Court," the vice president said.
In tone, Gore didn't sound at all like a man on the brink of conceding the race for the White House, a contrast to a sense of foreboding that other Democrats spoke of after Sauls' ruling.
"I don't feel anything other than optimistic," he said.
Gore stepped to the microphones after his running mate, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, earlier declared the Florida Supreme Court would likely decide the election dispute.
"We have always said that the final arbiter of the contest over the election in Florida would not be any of the candidates for president or vice president, or not even the secretary of state of Florida, but the Florida Supreme Court," Lieberman told reporters on Capitol Hill.
On the morning after twin disappointments from the U.S. Supreme Court and a Florida circuit court judge, Lieberman portrayed the state's high court as not only the Democrats' last chance for jump-starting recounts of the presidential vote, but their best one.
"This is the court that we took our substantive argument to; they responded favorably. Their judgment has been frustrated by the actions of various parties along the way," Lieberman said.
It was the Florida Supreme Court, its seven justices appointed by Democratic governors, who ordered that the results of manual vote recounts Gore is counting on to overtake Bush be included in the state's certified election result, which gave the Republican a 537-vote lead.
Lieberman met behind closed doors with the House's 209 Democrats at the same time Bush running mate Dick Cheney was meeting with House Republicans in a building next door.
House Democratic Leader Rep. Dick Gephardt told reporters that Gore and Lieberman "enjoy strong support with our caucus for what they're doing to try to get every vote counted in Florida."
Lieberman, who was re-elected to his U.S. Senate seat from Connecticut in the same Nov. 7 vote that offered him as Gore's running mate, also met with fellow centrist Democrats in the Senate.
Lawmakers who spoke with Lieberman by conference call on Monday reported no whiff of surrender. "We're down but not out," said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. "We continue to support Al Gore."
But some acknowledged that the clock is now working against Gore.
"I'm with him as far as he wants to go," said Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va. But "if you put money on the vice president's chances right now, you'd probably want points."
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court turned aside a ruling that had favored an extension of state deadlines to allow manual recounts, and a Florida circuit court judge refused to overturn Bush's victory in the state where his brother, Jeb, is the governor.
Gore's lawyers appealed immediately, but advisers in Florida and at Gore's recount headquarters in Washington emphasized this latest move in state court would be Gore's last stand.
"When the Florida Supreme Court makes its decision on this matter, we will accept that," said attorney David Boies.
Spokesman Mark Fabiani said Boies reflected Gore's own thinking. "The last stop in Florida is the Florida Supreme Court ... the final word on these issues," Fabiani said.
The Gore team has insisted all along that the disputed election is a state issue, and has faulted Bush for running to federal court after the Nov. 7 vote. But the statements Monday by Fabiani and Boies took on greater significance because it had remained an open question whether Gore might take his arguments all the way to the nation's highest court.
Moreover, the Gore camp hoped to build political pressure on Bush to swear off any appeal of what the Florida Supreme Court rules. The last major ruling by that panel of seven judges appointed by Democratic governors went Gore's way and prompted Republican accusations of partisanship.
The nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard one very narrow, but crucial, question filed by the Bush team, gave Gore no reason to expect they would be receptive when they tossed the case back to the state Monday with instructions to construct a more clear opinion.