TV: The Actual Participants Review HBO's 'Recount'

JAMES BAKER III, Bush's Top Recount Strategist
I think they were a bit inaccurate in the way they portrayed me and Warren Christopher. I don't think I was as Machiavellian as the movie made me out to be, nor was Christopher as wimpish, either. A better way to say that would be that the characters of the two of us, if he'd been on the winning side, we would have seen a different characterization, I suspect. I understand it's a movie, but having me calling for protests in the streets, I didn't say that, nor did I say I don't want to see a copy of The New York Times unless it's used to wrap up the garbage.

You know they were thinking of putting a mortarboard up at the end during the credits saying, "We will never know for certain who won Florida." I said, how can you possibly end it that way? The person who won is the man who's president, George W. Bush. We recognized that it was a political contest, not just a legal contest. And I think the other side recognized that, too. I don't think we approached it more than they did as a win-or-lose situation. It was a unique event in political history. Its legacy in my mind is that the strength of our democracy is our political stability. We handled it exceptionally well. We were engaged in an extraordinarily emotional undertaking and the rule of law prevailed, and I daresay that wouldn't have occurred in any other country but America. The lesson was that we handled a very difficult situation in the right way. There are still partisan Democrats out there who say with a straight face that we stole the election

RON KLAIN, Gore's Recount Point Man
I have to say that when I first heard they were going to make the movie, I was skeptical because it seemed improbable as a film. It's fundamentally a story about people running to go to court, and where you know the ending. But it's an important story because a lot of what you see dramatized in the film are still problems in the electoral system that could happen in 2008. The basic thrust of the film is absolutely accurate and is very important in that thousands of people didn't have their votes counted in 2000.

I hope it reminds people of what can go wrong and activates them to work harder to prevent those things from going wrong, and in the two screenings I've been at, the reactions from the audience have been along the lines of "I need to go vote this year!" I think it will cause people to ask what happened about all these problems, and I think they'll be surprised to learn how little has changed, that partisan officials still run the electoral system—it brings these questions back to the forefront. It's definitely painful to watch. I've seen it three times, and the opening scene of the elderly voter trying to navigate the butterfly ballot just makes me want to scream as she punches the Pat Buchanan hole. For me, it's about fighting very hard and losing. The last eight years in some ways have made it even clearer than it was on Dec. 12, 2000, what a fork in the road it was and makes the consequence of coming up a few votes short all the more acute.

BENJAMIN GINSBERG, Bush-Cheney Campaign Counsel
I've seen it. I liked it. It's a great story, really an unanticipated event that's unlikely to be repeated, and it shows that the system works. But here's the thing: we won the recount and the Democrats won the movie. [Screenwriter] Danny Strong was kind enough to send me a script, and I sent it back with a six-page memo. I think the best thing they were able to do was capture the tension everyone was feeling on both sides, the speed with which things came at us and the speed with which they changed. I think that all the characters involved were a composite of a lot of different people, which was perfectly within their cinematic license to do. But this idea that we were the only ones playing it as this street-fighting game I don't think is right. It was for whatever reason the role assigned to us, because it was our decision that we would have to do that as well. I actually said at the time that we can't be like Republicans in recounts, we have to be like Democrats, which is to say like street fighters. But the last time Hollywood portrayed conservatives in a favorable light was "The Ten Commandments." I think the two styles given to each camp were well within their cinematic license. I think the recount was a once-in-a-century occurrence that's a fascinating drama and story to be told, and so to me, while each and every waking moment of it felt like a root canal, now it's all a warm glow by the fact that they made it into a movie, and of course that we won. Oh, and that I was lucky enough to have a character named after me.

WILLIAM DALEY, Gore Campaign Chairman
Anyone who's been around elections knows that most of them are screwed up. It doesn't mean they're done with illegal motives. It's just a screwed-up process. You have these volunteers running things, people getting paid like 30 bucks to sit there, and the counties don't spend much on it, so it's just the nature. Look, if an election is not turned over in the first 24 hours, and it goes into a recount, then the hometown team will generally win because the close calls are made in their favor by their people. In Florida, the Republicans] controlled the system, not because of anything illegal. It's just how it was, so when there are close calls to be made and tough decisions, and you have control of the system, in this case the Florida electoral system, then you make them in your favor. That's how it is. If you think you're going to get by on your good looks alone, then you're mistaken.

The reality is that most of the people that this movie is about had never been involved in a recount before. This wasn't a campaign. We had to face the facts, and the facts were that the Florida laws say you had to file by county. The reason we did five counties between Wednesday and Friday was that those were the only counties we could get evidence in, plain and simple. It was amazing that we got to the point of counting the ballots. The chances of overturning the butterfly ballots were slim to none; yet we had people running around thinking we could get that overturned.

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