- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2000

The single battleground state of Florida held the balance in the tight race for the presidency between Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore, after the Democrat's victories in numerous other swing states.

The key state of Florida was called by several networks for Mr. Bush, but it remained too close to call until 4 a.m., when the outcome was still up in the air from overseas ballots and absentee ballots from a few precincts still uncounted.

Mr. Gore scored significant victories carrying the battleground states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Washington state, but it wasn't enough to secure the election.

National TV networks initially declared Mr. Gore the winner in Florida at 8 p.m., but reversed its call two hours later after Florida Republican Party Chairman Al Cardenas objected.

Mr. Cardenas said at the time Mr. Bush was leading Mr. Gore, "but we're not out of the woods yet."

Leo DiBenigno, spokesman for the Florida Bush campaign, was saying Mr. Bush had won and attributed it to the "largest grass-roots campaign in the state's history."

"Everything from volunteer phone banks, precinct walks to his visits created an incredible ripple effect throughout the state and generated excitement," Mr. DiBenigno said.

After Florida was initially tallied in Mr. Gore's favor, Merle Black, a political science professor at Georgia's Emory University said, "Florida was a state Bush always had in his Electoral College strategy, and Mr. Gore has denied him 25 votes in the fourth-largest state in the nation."

Mr. Bush underscored the importance of a Florida victory when he told NBC's Tom Brokaw last month that his marching instructions to his brother were, "Jeb, we need to win. Otherwise, Thanksgiving might be a cold meal."

Gore staffers remained confident that their initial battleground state wins would put the vice president over the top.

"We think other states the Bush team said were in their 'win' column will come home to Al Gore," said a Gore spokesman.

However, other Democratic campaign officials carefully limited their predictions that Mr. Gore would prevail over Mr. Bush in battleground states. Still, they erupted into wild cheering at Mr. Gore's Tennessee campaign headquarters as media forecasts trickled in and at times indicated Mr. Gore was carrying the day.

"Gore held his own," said Alan Secrest, a Democratic strategist.

Yet, the vice president lost his home state of Tennessee. The last presidential candidate to lose his home state was then-Sen. George S. McGovern, who failed to carry South Dakota in 1972.

Mr. Secrest credited Mr. Gore's Pennsylvania win to the Tennessean's appeal to working class and suburban voters.

"It means he has overcome a concerted pro-life effort in the state and successfully called into question Governor Bush's ultimate credentials for the office," Mr. Secrest said.

In Michigan, Mr. Gore was aided by large numbers of union voters, many of whom were given Election Day off as a holiday from work in their most recent contract.

"Michigan was an uphill battle for Bush all the way because of the tremendous efforts by organized labor," Mr. Black said.

Early returns showed that Mr. Bush captured the bellwether commonwealth of Kentucky, a state where 61 percent of the voters are registered Democrats. However, many key states were too close to call, leaving TV commentators to speculate on who would win each state long after polls closed.

Mr. Bush carried the heavily Democratic state of West Virginia, which reelected Republican Presidents Reagan and Eisenhower, but had not elected a first-term Republican since Herbert Hoover in 1928.

Elsewhere, a state judge in the key state of Missouri extended voting time three hours until 10 p.m. in St. Louis after scores of voters swamped polling centers.

John Hancock, Missouri's Republican Party spokesman, said that decision by Judge Evelyn Baker was reversed an hour later. Nonetheless, polls in the heavily Democratic city remained open well after 9 p.m. while rural Republican polls were closed at 7 p.m.

"The numbers are rolling in and all of our candidates are winning, but should the city of St. Louis numbers change that, we will take a very serious look at an attempt to steal this election by the Democrats," Mr. Hancock said.

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