How Anger over Florida Recount Still Roils Politics ; the 2004 Presidential Race and the California Recall Have Both Felt the Fallout

Article excerpt

The nation's political landscape is being revisited by a specter many thought had been permanently laid to rest in the wake of 9/11: the Florida recount.

With the fate of the California recall election now in the hands of the courts, and late-night comedians once again joking about hanging chads, the finale of the 2000 election is suddenly reemerging as a potent force in US politics - one that is casting a shadow over current contests, and could prove a key factor in 2004.

The effect is seen most overtly in California, where Democrats are deliberately evoking the Florida recount, linking it to the recall as part of a pattern of Republican coup attempts. Indeed, with prominent Democrats from Bill Clinton to Jesse Jackson to presidential hopefuls Bob Graham and John Kerry all stumping for Gov. Gray Davis this week, it suggests that the party may be looking to use anger over the 2000 election and the recall to energize Democratic voters, not just in California, but nationwide in 2004.

Moreover, in many ways, lingering anger over 2000 is already shaping the Democratic presidential contest - by fueling the rise of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. As the candidate who most directly challenged President Bush's legitimacy early on, with a call to reclaim the nation's democracy, Dean's advisers say he tapped into a well of resentment among Democratic activists.

"I think there's been a festering sore there for three years," says Paul Maslin, a Democratic pollster who works for Dean. "And that's where Howard Dean got the jump on this field. It wasn't just the war: He's giving voice to millions of Democrats who want someone to stand up not only to the wrongheaded policies of Bush, but [for] a sense that this guy shouldn't have been there in the first place. I think it's been unbelievably important."

Of course, analysts agree that anger over the Florida recount is unlikely to resonate much with the majority of voters, most of whom have long since moved on. But for the Democratic stalwarts who tend to dominate primaries, it's remained fresh.

"Among the general electorate, ordinary people who don't follow politics too much, Florida 2000 is already part of history. You may as well be talking about the Punic Wars," says Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College. "But for Democratic activists, it's very much alive."

Indeed, Professor Pitney sees the recount as sparking a "blue- hot" sentiment among the Democratic base - a reference to the intensity of the "fire" burning on the left, and the fact that these voters hail from "blue" states - that has dominated the primary battle so far. …