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At Any Cost: How
Al Gore Tried to Steal the Election
Kidnapping an election
Reviewed by Steven Martinovich
Bill Sammon's account of the November 2000 election and the resulting debacle may not add much in the way of new information but At Any Cost: How Al Gore Tried to Steal the Election is still an enjoyable look at the 46 days which alternately repelled, embarrassed and enthralled the American people. Sammon, who makes it fairly clear that he wasn't behind the Gore-Lieberman ticket, attempts to build the case that Gore out and out tried to steal the election from George W. Bush.
Sammon opens his account on election night with the blunder that kicked off the saga, the media alternately calling the state of Florida for Gore and then Bush before placing it in the "too close to call" column. Calling the state for Gore before many counties had closed their polling centers, Sammon calculates that Bush lost thousands of votes in the conservative Florida panhandle and untold numbers in other parts of the country that may have made the race much less closer and even given him the victory in the popular vote. Sammon also reveals the secret that the networks don't like the public to know: just one organization, Voters New Service, provided the badly flawed exit polling data that each of the big four television networks used during their broadcasts.
Even those who closely watched the unfolding event can be forgiven if they lost track of the myriad of threads that were being spun during the debacle and Sammon provides the useful service of laying out the events in a roughly chronological order without losing the swirling chaotic mess that it became. In one grimly humorous chapter, Sammon recounts a press conference held by Palm Beach County Canvassing Board spokesman Bob Nichols. Nichols, who until seven months before was a television anchor, famously attempted to explain to the press why ballot counters kept changing the standards for judging what constituted a now famous "chad."
The rest of At Any Cost is less humorous but no less compelling. At times Sammon's account makes for difficult reading, such as an incident when lawyers for Gore high-fived each other after disqualifying more than 1 000 military ballots including one cast by a U.S. Navy lieutenant assisting in the rescue operations involving the U.S.S. Cole. Sammon also details the increasingly desperate legal strategies that the Gore camp employed in its fight to overturn Bush's victory in Florida and what he refers to as Clinton-esque attacks on critics and the truth. Even defenders of Gore eventually found it difficult to defend their candidate's actions and ultimately urged him to concede after the final blow to his aspirations was delivered in a 7-2 U.S. Supreme Court decision, one that was referred to in the media disingenuously as a 5-4 decision to - Sammon alleges - spread doubts about the legitimacy of a Bush administration.
Although he builds an impressive and utterly convincing case for his assertions, if you don't believe that Bush won the election fairly you probably won't end up agreeing with Sammon. By eschewing a more balanced approach -- Sammon apparently found no objectionable activities that Republican Party operatives engaged in - he weakens an impressive case. Adopting a dispassionate tone while cataloguing the sins of those involved in the saga would have presented an impregnable argument for those who believe Bush was legitimately declared the winner. Despite that blemish, At Any Cost remains a compelling and occasionally humorous look at the election that seemed to never end.
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