WASHINGTON -- The fierce divisions of a presidential election campaign are supposed to have calmed well before Thanksgiving -- but instead, they are escalating.
On the eve of the holiday, Republicans accused Democrats of trying to steal the White House from George W. Bush, and they turned to the U.S. Supreme Court and maybe even the Florida Legislature to stop what one GOP House leader called a burglary.
Normally restrained lawmakers couldn't take it anymore. ''This cannot stand!'' Senate GOP leader Trent Lott said.
Al Gore's campaign set about suing election canvassers in Miami, trying to undo their unanimous decision Wednesday to stop counting disallowed ballots in heavily Democratic territory the vice president had figured would boost his count.
The Supreme Court ruling led to a bitter Republican outcry. Michigan Gov. John Engler, conservative author Bill Bennett and Florida Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart said Gore was trying to steal the election.
Rep. Dick Armey of Texas, the House Republican leader, said it was a burglary attempt and the Florida legislature should step in to stop it and install Bush electors if the ''selective recounts by partisan boards'' flip the lead to Gore. Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, Bush's representative in the Florida situation, said he wouldn't be surprised to see the Republican legislature take action.
Failing that, he said, the House, narrowly Republican, might intercede itself when the Electoral College reports its vote to Congress on Jan. 6.
Bitter words and threats amid hair-trigger political emotion, all underlined when Republican demonstrators in Miami staged a sit-in and protest outside the election canvassing board room.
Those bursts of GOP temper eased when the Miami-Dade County canvassers voted to quit. Diaz-Balart then said the election board there had ''decided the rush to judgment simply couldn't go on.''
For the two weeks since the election, the angriest words have come from the side that seemed to be slipping and in danger of losing. The Gore camp and Bush himself have both said they would win a fair count.
The trouble, Bush said in Austin, Texas, is that ''if somebody doesn't like what's happening one day, they try to change the rules the next.'' He was talking about the Democrats, but the shoe fits both parties.
He was said to be planning an appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States to overturn the ruling of the Florida court and halt all the recounts; he said the voting machine returns had been counted at least twice already.
The Bush campaign also filed suit in Florida to force the inclusion of rejected votes from servicemen overseas, some blocked by Democratic objections for lack of postmarks. The Republicans figure most of those military ballots are for Bush.
Gore's campaign chairman, William Daley, said the Democrats want them counted -- ''if they're legally cast under the laws of Florida.'' That did not rule out the kind of protests Democrats have been lodging over technical flaws in those absentee ballots.
Daley stepped out of the vice president's mansion in Washington to announce that the Gore campaign was going to court to get the Miami recount started again: ''We will immediately be seeking an order directing the Dade County board of canvassers to resume the manual recount.''
While the hard lines earlier Wednesday were drawn in threatening Republican words, the Democrats had declared legal war first. The morning after the Nov. 7 election, Bush clung to a tiny edge, hours after Gore had conceded defeat in a telephone call to Bush and then rescinded the concession, telling the governor not to get snippy with him. Daley announced at that point that ''we are going to support legal actions'' to contest the count in court.
Rep. Armey managed one comment nobody could dispute.
''It's a mess,'' he said.
Walter R. Mears has reported on Washington and national politics for The Associated Press for more than 35 years.
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