WASHINGTON (AP) â€” George W. Bush's campaign accused Al Gore Friday of mounting ``endless challenges'' to a disputed vote count in make-or-break Florida and said the vice president should concede the race for the White House if he loses the state. Gore's top campaign aide countered: ``this election is not over.''
At a news conference in Florida, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III said Republicans had twice in the last 40 years decided against prolonged challenges in closely contested elections.
``For the good of the country and for the sake of our standing in the world, the campaigning should end and the business of an orderly transition should begin,'' said Baker, who is Bush's point man in Florida.
Earlier, Gore's campaign chairman, William Daley, said, ``The fact of the matter is, this election is in dispute right now.''
An unofficial tally by The Associated Press of the recount in Florida's 67 counties showed the Texas governor with a 327-vote lead over the vice president in the state whose 25 electoral votes will determine the next president. Not counting the Sunshine State, Bush had won 29 states for 246 electoral votes. Gore had won 18 states plus the District of Columbia for 255, with 270 needed for victory.
A formal state recount is under way, but no final results are expected for several days, in part because the state has yet to tally an unknown number of ballots cast by Floridians living overseas.
Gore's campaign has argued that there was a faulty ballot design in Palm Beach County that left some of the vice president's supporters inadvertently voting for Pat Buchanan.
Several lawsuits have been filed challenging the election.
Katherine Harris, Florida's Secretary of State comments Thursday
In one case, a local judge in Florida has ordered officials in Palm Beach County not to certify those results until a hearing can be held next week.
Baker read a carefully worded statement, speaking deliberately, before answering questions.
``At the end of this recount, Governor Bush is still the winner, subject only to overseas ballots, which traditionally have favored Republican candidates,'' he said.
``It is frustrating to lose an election by a narrow margin,'' he added, ``but it happens.'' He cited the precedent of 1960, when Vice President Richard M. Nixon narrowly lost the White House, and 1976, when President Ford was turned out of office.
Both elections were close, he said, but each man chose to accept the verdict.
Baker coupled his appeal to Gore with a not-so-subtle threat that Republicans, too, could start demanding recounts in states where Bush lost narrowly.
``Let the country step back for a minute and pause and think about what's at stake here. This may be the last chance to do that,'' he said. ``There is no reasonable end to this process if it slips away.''
In a statement, Gore campaign chairman William Daley outlined the Democratic stance, ``Contrary to claims being made this morning by the Bush campaign, this election is not over. Again, we want the true and accurate will of the people to prevail, and that means letting the legal system run its course.''
At the same time, two prominent Democrats questioned whether Gore should pursue the case, saying it could damage voter confidence in the nation's electoral process.
Sen. Robert Torricelli of New Jersey, the chief Democratic campaign strategist in the Senate, said the country would be best served by bringing the election to a timely and definitive close.
``I want Al Gore to win this election but, more than that, I want somebody to win this election,'' Torricelli said. ``I would urge both Al Gore and George Bush to think of the country â€” the continuity of government, its stability â€” and avoid any collateral attacks on the process.''
Sen. John Breaux of Louisiana said through a spokesman, ``Both candidates have the right to be assured by the courts that all election laws have been adhered to. This process, however, should not be dragged out over an extended period of time.''
Former Sen. Robert Dole, appearing on CBS' ``The Early Show,'' said, ``I think if I were Al Gore, and I know him fairly well â€” we've had a count, we've had a recount â€” it's time for him to say the election is over, let's go on with the business of America. The recount was held. Bush is still the winner.''