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US election: Kerry ready for another recount
Updated: 2004-03-09 09:23

John Kerry is determined not to lose Florida's 27 electoral votes in a swamp of recounts and recriminations this fall, vowing to mount an early legal challenge in any district that might repeat the problems that bedeviled Democratic supporters in 2000.

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate, Senator John Kerry (D-MA), reaches out to shake hands with supporters behind the stage at a campaign rally in the Centro Ybor Open Air Market Plaza in Tampa, Florida March 8, 2004. [Reuters]

"Not only do we want a record level of turnout to vote, we want to guarantee that every vote is counted," the presumptive Democratic nominee told about 500 people at a town hall meeting Monday.

Kerry rarely mentions the legal battle over the 2000 election, but he did so repeatedly in the state that was the epicenter four years ago. Responding to a voter who asked, "What can you do to prevent them from stealing the election again?", Kerry, a lawyer and former Massachusetts prosecutor, said his campaign was assembling a legal team to examine districts that had problems.

"We're going to pre-check it, we're going to have the legal team in place. ... We're going to take injunctions where necessary ahead of time. We'll pre-challenge if necessary," the four-term Massachusetts senator said.

The 2000 recount looms large in nearly any political discourse in Florida. George W. Bush won the presidency by five electoral votes when a 5-4 Supreme Court decision ended a recount in the state. Bush spent millions of dollars fighting Al Gore's effort to have votes recounted, a legal battle that lasted for 36 days. Bush won Florida's 25 electoral votes by a 537-vote margin. The state gained two electoral votes since the election.

Kerry was moving to distance himself from one potentially dangerous issue in Florida, with its heavy Jewish population. In an interview with The Associated Press, Kerry distanced himself from comments in his 1997 book describing Palestinian leader "Yasser Arafat's transformation from outlaw to statesman."

"He was back in 1995," Kerry said. "As far as I'm concerned he's an outlaw to the peace process."

Kerry said Arafat blew an historic opportunity "and he's proved himself to be irrelevant."

"Obviously, Yasser Arafat has been an impediment to the peace process," he said.

In the wide-ranging interview, Kerry also said that, despite the contentious nature of the campaign against President Bush, "It's not personal. He's an enjoyable person to be with, he's funny and so forth, but he doesn't keep his promises."

Worries are already being raised about changes in Florida's voting methods since the disputed election. Kerry said he wants to be sure there is no chance of foul play and that he intended to ask his legal team track votes.

Kerry's fund raising has increased since he locked up the nomination last Tuesday. His campaign said it raised roughly US$7 million over the Internet, including more than US$1 million a day for three straight days.

Tobie Martin, from Gilmer, Texas, shows U.S. President George W. Bush his competition Brahman cow at the Houston Livestock Show, March 8, 2004. Bush was in Houston to attend an evening campaign fund-raising dinner. [Reuters]

Florida and three states ! Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas ! select a total of 465 delegates to the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday. As Kerry visited three Florida cities to encourage people to vote in the primary, he contended that Bush has learned none of the lessons of the 2000 election. Bush has shut out Democrats, he said, and has acted as if the razor-thin win was a mandate.

"Remember, George Bush ran as the great uniter, and he's become the great divider," Kerry said. "You'd think that somebody, remembering what happened here in this great state, who was finally put in office by the Supreme Court of the United States, would actually recognize the divisions in this country and try to reach out."

Campaigning in state in which 17.6 percent of its population is 65 and older ! the highest concentration of elderly in the nation ! Kerry accused Bush of breaking promises to senior citizens and called the prescription drug package approved by Congress a billion-dollar giveaway to drug companies.

Bush is campaigning equally hard in the state, making it one of his most frequent stops to raise money. He's counting on help from his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, who easily won a second term in 2002.

A poll released Sunday showed Kerry with a slight lead over Bush ! 49 percent to 43 percent in the survey done by Democratic pollster Rob Schroth and Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway for The Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times. Independent Ralph Nader had 3 percent.

At a fund-raiser with Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Bob Graham, both of whom are mentioned as potential running mates, Kerry said there was sentiment outside the United States for Bush's defeat in November.

"I've met foreign leaders, who can't go out and say this publicly, but boy they look at you and say, 'You gotta win this one, you gotta beat this guy, we need a new policy,' things like that," Kerry said. "So there is enormous energy out there."

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