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Floridians Try to Push Aside Saga

November 29, 2000

MIAMI (AP) _ Ileana Larrauri wasn’t sure she wanted to spend her vacation in the eye of Florida’s presidential storm.

``I thought we were going to walk into a riot,″ said the 31-year-old tourist from Morristown, N.J., relaxing in Miami Beach with her boyfriend. ``Thank God it has been very peaceful. It’s calm.″

Finally. The ballot-by-ballot recounting has stopped, at least for now. The sign-waving partisans are gone. While the battle for the White House continues, Florida voters are trying to return to their routines.

Cecil Bells was reading his Bible on Tuesday behind the booth where he sells religious figurines and Cracker Jack at a social services center in Liberty City, the heart of Miami’s black community.

Bells, a Gore voter, agrees with Vice President Al Gore that his vote and others in Miami-Dade County haven’t been fairly counted. And he’s willing to wait while the campaign drags on in court.

``A lot of people died to have the right to vote,″ said Bells, who estimated that he registered 300 people to vote from his vending booth. ``Right now, I can’t honestly say if my vote was counted or not.″

Interviews with voters across Florida found that some support the vice president’s efforts to overturn the certified vote that would give Florida and the presidency to Republican George W. Bush and to revisit ballot recounts that were tardy in Palm Beach County and abandoned in Miami.

Others say Gore is wasting the nation’s time and tarnishing his image.

Monica Branham, a registered Democrat from Tampa, voted for Bush.

``I don’t think a lot of people have confidence in him. And if he does win, I don’t think they’d vote for him a second time,″ she said.

The final state tally certified Sunday gave Bush the victory over Gore by 537 votes out of 6 million cast.

According to exit polls from Nov. 7, Gore did well among women, blacks and the poor and Bush among men, whites and the wealthy. The election was largely left in the hands of swing groups _ the old and young, political moderates and independents.

In Miami’s Little Havana, where Republican-leaning Cuban-Americans still are angry over the Clinton administration’s handling of the Elian Gonzalez saga, the election remains a hot topic.

``It’s absolutely ridiculous,″ Bush supporter Oscar Perez said over breakfast at a Cuban restaurant. ``I believe everything is going to wind up in the Supreme Court. It’s not the right process. The machine count should stand.″

Paul Truitt of Jacksonville isn’t taking things so seriously. He told his Gore-supporting wife he voted for Libertarian Harry Browne but actually voted for Bush. He said the presidential drama is too much fun to end now.

``I’m enjoying the spectacle. I think it is wonderful,″ Truitt said between puffs on a cigar. ``I’d like to see it played out so we know who the winner really is.″

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