Emerging from an eight-minute meeting with Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, Warren Christopher said the country election boards or Gore himself will appeal the decision.
He suggested that Harris' ruling was politically motivated. Noting that she campaigned for Gore's rival, George W. Bush, and is a political supporter of Bush's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Christopher said. "Her statement has to be taken into that context."
The legal skirmishing quickened Sunday in the overtime race for the White House as Republicans warned that painstaking recounts in Democratic-dominated counties expose Florida to political ``mischief'' and human error. Democrats said they expect America's next president will be determined ``in a matter of days - not weeks, not months.''
Updated voting figures in all-important Florida gave Republican Bush a 288-vote margin out of some 6 million votes cast with recounts under way in four jurisdictions. Democrat Gore leads in the nationwide popular vote but the Electoral College tally is so close that whoever takes Florida almost certainly will win the White House.
Both parties previewed their legal strategies for a federal court hearing Monday on Bush's request to block manual recounts. Top Bush adviser James A. Baker III described the five-day Florida standoff as ``a black mark on our democracy and on our process.''
His rival, Gore adviser Christopher, portrayed vote recounts as a routine necessity of democracy. ``If at the end of the day, George Bush has more votes in Florida than we do, certainly the vice president will concede,'' Christopher said, even while leaving open the prospect of court action if recounting ends with Bush still ahead.
The marshaling of legal forces sets the stage for one of the most dramatic periods in American political history. A climax could come at the end of this week when final overseas mail-in ballots will be counted and the trailing candidate would be forced to concede or push deeper into uncharted waters.
``By next Friday,'' said Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., ``the pressure on someone is going to be enormous to accept whatever results Florida has reached.''
Their public financing drying up, both camps are raising money to pay rafts of lawyers and political operatives sent to every corner of Florida to examine county voting records and wage a campaign-style public relations battle.
The Bush team dispatched an ``urgent message'' by e-mail Sunday asking supporters for up to $5,000 to help finance the recount campaign. Democrats are hoping to raise $3 million, with top Gore aides moving from his headquarters in Tennessee to Democratic offices in Washington.
Among the weekend developments:
Officials said their manual recount of precincts representing 1 percent of the vote turned up 19 votes for Gore beyond a machine count. Carol Roberts, a county commissioner and a member of the Palm Beach County canvassing commission, argued that a manual recount of 100 percent of the precincts could potentially change as many as 1,900 additional votes - far more than the existing statewide margin between the two candidates.
Bush and Gore were in seclusion with top aides Sunday - Bush at his Texas ranch, Gore at his Washington, D.C., residence. Bush has made several public appearances since Tuesday, casting himself as a man preparing for the transition to power. Gore has laid low, wary that voters might interpret his legal challenge as a grab for power.
Bush's legal team planned to argue Monday before a Clinton-appointed judge that manual recounts in only four of Florida's 67 counties would constitute unequal treatment under the 14th Amendment. Baker suggested that Democrats who control the four counties could play favorites.
``It's all subjective, and therefore it presents terrible problems of human error and potential for mischief,'' Baker said.
In a telephone news conference arranged by the Bush camp, former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming said the recounts were questionable because ``these election officials in these counties are Democrats ... I'm just saying it throws the issue of fairness into grave, grave posture.''
Christopher countered that manual counts have long been conducted in several states, including Florida and Bush's Texas.
If Bush fails to win an injunction against the manual counts, a prospect that even GOP officials say is likely, his next step would be fateful. Senior strategists say Bush is likely to seek recounts in some GOP-dominated Florida counties if the Gore-backed recounts and overseas balloting put him in danger of losing the lead.
Baker threatened to demand recounts in close-voting states won by Gore, such as Iowa, Wisconsin, Oregon - or too-close-to-call New Mexico.
``If the Gore campaign is going to continue to call for recount after recount after recount until they are satisfied with the result, we may be forced to suggest there may be recounts in all these states,'' Baker said.
That may be a lawyer's bluff, however, because Bush would have to win Oregon, Iowa, New Mexico and Wisconsin to claim the White House without Florida - a long shot given that Gore is leading by 5,000 or more votes in all these states but New Mexico.
Overseas ballots are due at Florida election offices by midnight Friday. State officials plan to count them quickly, but have not announced a schedule.
If Gore still trails when those totals are published, he might be inclined to concede. Already, aides and allies are telling Gore that he would be positioned well for the 2004 campaign if he concedes with grace - a move that might help shift the perception that he would do anything to become president.
Still, Christopher left open the possibility of legal action if Gore trails after the overseas ballots are counted.
Baker offered this deal: ``We would dismiss this lawsuit promptly if they would agree with us to respect the results of the statewide recount, subject only to ... tabulating the votes of the overseas ballots, and whoever wins then, wins.''
The Gore campaign said it will support individual voters' lawsuits in Palm Beach County, which used a confusing ballot. Aides say the campaign set up phone banks to take calls from voters and may help finance the suits. Republicans say Gore is already deeply involved in the cases.
Not counting the Sunshine State, Bush carried 29 states for 246 electoral votes. Gore, who added Oregon to his column on Friday, counted 19 states plus the District of Columbia for 262 electoral votes, with 270 needed for victory. Bush led in New Mexico but the state remained too close to call. Its five electoral votes would not be decisive.
``We're not talking about a long delay here,'' Christopher said. ``I think it's a matter of days - not weeks, not months - but days before we reach a result.