TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The Florida Supreme Court's lifeline to Democrat Al Gore infuriated Republican state lawmakers, but it made their role in the presidential election drama much more important.
The GOP-dominated Legislature began a special session Friday to insulate George W. Bush from the possibility that legal wrangling in the case hasn't ended by the time the state's 25 Electoral College votes are due to be cast Dec. 18. Those votes will put the winner in the White House.
Earlier legal decisions had Gore seemingly running out of options when the lawmakers started, but the court decision made the Legislature's decision to press forward to name Bush the winner in Florida much more likely to make a difference.
"Now this becomes monumental," Rep. Lois Frankel, leader of the Florida House Democrats, said Friday after the state Supreme Court ordered a hand count of 40,000 disputed ballots statewide and put the vice president within less than 200 votes of Bush, with a chance at picking up more.
The measure lawmakers are considering says the electors are the 25 Republicans pledged to Bush that were certified by the state.
Senate and House committees will take the weekend off and consider the measures Monday. They will debate them Tuesday and may take a final vote Wednesday.
If Gore gains enough votes to overtake Bush, the Legislature could be in the position of naming a set of electors different from the candidate ahead in the vote tally.
The court's ruling tormented the Legislature's Republicans, already vexed by what they see as an activist court overturning many Republican-passed laws.
"It is insulting a banana republic to say the Supreme Court is a banana republic court," said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican.
Republicans argue the vote has been counted under the rules and is over, and Bush is the winner. Democrats complain that some votes haven't been counted because recounts were either incomplete or not accepted in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
The state certified Bush's win at 537 votes, but Gore filed a legal contest. The Supreme Court ruling added some votes to Gore's tally, trimming Bush's lead to 154 votes.
But Frankel told her fellow Democrats to think over the weekend about possible amendments to offer in committee, and some said they might propose splitting the votes between Bush and Gore.
Democrats are outnumbered 102-58 in the Legislature and don't have the votes to stop the Republicans.
Democrats charged that GOP lawmakers are fronting for the Bush campaign, trying to make sure the Texas governor is the winner regardless of how the vote count ends up.
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