- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 13, 2000

Al Gore decided today to concede the country's overtime election, aides said, clearing the way for George W. Bush to become 43rd president and leader of a nation sharply divided along political lines. The vice president acted after a split Supreme Court ruled against recounts in contested Florida.

Two senior advisers, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Mr. Gore would officially drop out in a nationally televised address at 9 p.m. EST. "The race is over," said one official after speaking with the vice president. "We're done."

Mr. Bush was planning a televised statement of his own, at 10 p.m., part of what aides said would be an effort to heal divisions caused by the campaign and its brutal, five-week postscript. A senior Bush official also said the governor would like to meet with Gore, a possibility that both men mentioned publicly at the height of their post-election battle.

The decision was made by Mr. Gore to drop out 12 hours after the U.S. Supreme Court, as divided as the nation, ruled 5-4 against his bid to recount thousands of ballots in Florida. Mr. Gore had sought the recount in hopes he could overturn Mr. Bush's 537-vote victory margin in the state whose 25 electoral votes will settle the election.

"The vice president has directed the recount committee to suspend activities," campaign chairman William Daley said in a written statement that effectively ended an unbearably close election 36 tumultuous days after the nation voted. Mr. Gore topped his Republican rival by about 330,000 votes out of 103 million ballots cast nationwide. But Florida's electoral votes, to be cast on Dec. 18 and counted on Jan. 6, would give Mr. Bush a total of 271 electoral votes to Mr. Gore's 267.

Mr. Bush was in Texas, savoring his hard-earned triumph in private, as if to give Mr. Gore all the room he needed for a graceful exit. Aides spread the word the governor would speak to the nation from the hall where the Texas House of Representatives meets, and would be introduced by Rep. Pete Laney, the Democrat who presides over the chamber as speaker.

Behind the scenes, Mr. Bush's aides were reaching out to the Gore camp to suggest a meeting between the two rivals — who last were together on a stage in St. Louis in October for their final debate of the campaign.

Republican running mate Dick Cheney was in Washington, meeting with House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois and other GOP lawmakers, part of a transition to power that now could begin in earnest. "The wounds that have come from the passions of partisanship must begin to heal for the good of the country," Mr. Hastert said in a statement that set the tone for other Republicans.

Democrats struck a different note, some openly expressing anger at the Supreme Court, others muting their reaction. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he accepted the recount ruling but the "majority has dealt the court a serious blow by taking actions many Americans will consider to be political rather than judicial."

Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, speaking for the Republican camp, had said last night that Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney were "very pleased and gratified" by the court's ruling. That was an understatement of historic proportions given the furor since Election Day — a saga of counts, recounts, lawsuits by the dozens and two trips to the highest court in the land.

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