As a gubernatorial candidate, Republican Sonny Perdue often criticized Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes (D) and the legislature for changing the state flag by converting the prominent Confederate cross into a much smaller insignia. If elected, Perdue vowed, he would let Georgia's voters decide the flag's details.

In a Nov. 5 stunner, Perdue ousted Barnes. But, now, the governor-elect sounds less eager to tackle the racially charged issue.

"My goal is to have this state heal, to be reconciled from a standpoint of bitter partisanship and the issues that would divide us," he told the Associated Press. His proposed referendum on the issue, he said, "is something we will look at with the leadership once the leadership gets in place in the House and Senate and make a decision on how we will resolve the issue."

Election analysts say Perdue's campaign stance apparently appealed to many rural, white Georgians who considered the old flag an important part of their heritage. But Perdue is playing down the flag issue's role in the election outcome.

"The people offended by the flag change were only a small constituency of the people offended by Roy Barnes's arrogant abuse of power," he said. "They represent a small piece."

Alabama's Recount Dispute

Floridians rejoice. This year's biggest election debacle appears to be in neighboring Alabama, where the still undecided governor's race has become bogged down in legal arcana.

The trouble began on election night, when officials in one county told the Associated Press that their unofficial count gave Gov. Don Siegelman (D) enough votes for a second term. He promptly declared victory.

But the county later reversed itself, blaming assorted problems with its voting machines, and awarded Republican challenger Bob Riley enough votes to win. He also claimed victory -- by 3,117 votes out of more than 1.3 million ballots cast.

Siegelman and his supporters petitioned for recounts in all 67 counties. The Alabama attorney general, a Republican, and the Riley campaign said the circumstances did not warrant a recount. The matter landed in local courts and, after several judges allowed recounts, Riley asked the state Supreme Court to consider the issue. Opening arguments are set for Thursday.

The court's justices, who are elected, include one Democrat. Siegelman spokesman Rip Andrews said: "There's no way to predict what they'll do. We hope they make a decision based on law, not based on party affiliation.''

GOP Captures N.C. House

Republicans won control of the North Carolina House last week, after two GOP candidates prevailed in recounts.

Their victories will give Republicans a 61 to 59 edge over the Democrats when the state legislature reconvenes in January, the Associated Press reported. Democrats had controlled the chamber since 1998 -- and for all but four years since 1899.

The turnabout is especially surprising because redistricting had been intended to help Democrats. But Republicans ousted six Democratic incumbents, including House Majority Leader Phil Baddour. Democrats still control the North Carolina Senate.

Lott Hires 2 Veteran Staffers

Senate Republican leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) announced on Friday that two veteran Senate staffers with broad experience in domestic policy issues have agreed to join his office as he prepares to become majority leader in January.

G. William Hoagland, 20 years on the Senate Budget Committee staff and now director of its GOP minority staff, will join Lott's office in January as director of budget and appropriations.

Rohit Kumar, legislative director and chief counsel for retiring Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.), has already joined Lott's staff as counsel and will deal with homeland security and financial services.

Staff writer Helen Dewar contributed to this report.