- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 14, 2000

George W. Bush last night emerged as the man who will become the 43rd president of the United States, finally vanquishing Vice President Al Gore, who conceded with an eloquent plea to his supporters to put aside "partisan rancor" and rally behind the president-elect.
Mr. Bush spoke almost exactly 24 hours after the U.S. Supreme Court ended a dramatic and unprecedented 36-day struggle.
"Our country has been through a long and trying period, with the outcome of the presidential election not finalized for longer than any of us could ever imagine," the Texas governor said in Austin, Texas.
He pledged "a spirit of cooperation," noting that "Americans share hopes and goals and values far more important than any political disagreement.
"I am optimistic that we can change the tone of Washington, D.C. I believe things happen for a reason and I hope the long wait of the last five weeks will heighten a desire to move beyond the bitterness and partisanship of the recent past."
An hour earlier, the vice president had released Mr. Bush from protracted limbo, abandoning the all-out legal and political war that had captivated the nation for five weeks.
"Just moments ago, I spoke with George W. Bush and congratulated him on becoming the 43rd president of the United States," Mr. Gore said at 9:02 p.m., speaking from the Old Executive Office Building in Washington. "And I promised him that I wouldn't call him back this time."
This was a wry reference to another phone call Mr. Gore had placed at 3 a.m. on Nov. 8 to concede the election. He retracted that concession an hour later as late returns showed Florida drifting into recount territory.
"I offer my concession," Mr. Gore said last night in perhaps his most graceful and vivid speech of the 20-month campaign. "In a phrase I once addressed to others, it's time for me to go."
President-elect Bush, 54, has now officially avenged his father, President George Herbert Walker Bush, who was defeated by the Clinton-Gore team eight years ago. He becomes only the second man in history to follow his father's footsteps to the White House.
Said the younger Mr. Bush, from the chamber of the Texas House of Representatives after an introduction by the Democratic speaker of that House: "I was not elected to serve one party, but to serve one nation. The president of the United States is the president of every single American, of every race and every background. Whether you voted for me or not, I will do my best to serve your interests, and I will work to earn your respect."
Mr. Gore conceded after the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday challenged the constitutionality of standardless statewide hand recounts of questionable ballots, which the Florida Supreme Court ordered Friday.
"The U.S. Supreme Court has spoken," said Mr. Gore, who just hours earlier was urged to accuse the court of partisanship. "Let there be no doubt: While I strongly disagree with the court's decision, I accept it. I accept the finality of this outcome, which will be ratified next Monday in the Electoral College.
"I do have one regret that I didn't get the chance to stay and fight for the American people over the next four years. Especially for those who need burdens lifted and barriers removed. Especially for those who feel their voices have not been heard.
"I heard you. And I will not forget."
The Supreme Court ruling was the last option for the vice president, who early in the postelection debacle said the matter would end in "days, not weeks."
Instead, the vice president pursued every conceivable legal and political avenue in an increasingly contentious bid to reverse the Bush victory. As his options evaporated one by one, the candidate whose slogan was "count every vote" was reduced to embracing lawsuits that called for the rejection of 25,000 absentee ballots.
Gore lawyers fought to disqualify absentee ballots cast by soldiers and sailors stationed overseas because most favored Mr. Bush. This became a public relations disaster for the vice president, who was excoriated for trying to disenfranchise the men and women he might later have to send to war.
The postelection scrap escalated into a legal and political war of epic proportions, spawning scores of lawsuits and entangling everyone from local Florida judges to U.S. Supreme Court justices. The Florida Legislature moved to the brink of directly restoring the 25 Bush electors, stepping back yesterday on learning of Mr. Gore's imminent concession speech.
The standoff had propelled the nation dangerously close to constitutional crisis. Arguments raged over whether electors should be determined by the legislative or judicial branches of government.
The Florida Senate recessed yesterday, "out of respect for the vice president," said Senate President John McKay, a Republican. The state's House on Tuesday approved a new slate of 25 electors to ensure Florida's voice is heard in the Electoral College. Federal law directs states to pick electors six days before the College holds its final vote Dec. 18.
As late as yesterday, some prominent Democrats searched for three Bush "faithless electors" who could be persuaded to defect, giving Mr. Gore the 270 electoral votes needed for victory. Other Gore allies urged a last-ditch plea to the Florida Supreme Court for yet another statewide recount that could be completed by the time the Electoral College votes on Monday.
Mr. Gore mulled his dwindling options for a full 12 hours after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. His aides angrily chastised senior Democrats like Ed Rendell, general chairman of the Democratic National Committee, for saying late Tuesday it was time for Mr. Gore to concede. Mr. Rendell later said his remark was "taken out of context."
Such anger was noticeably absent from last night's concession speech.
"President-elect Bush inherits a nation whose citizens will be ready to assist him in the conduct of his large responsibilities," Mr. Gore said. "I personally will be at his disposal.
"And I call on all Americans I particularly urge all who stood with us to unite behind our next president. This is America. Just as we fight hard when the stakes are high, we close ranks and come together when the contest is done."
Despite Mr. Gore's conciliatory language, some liberal Democrats could not contain their bitterness toward Mr. Bush. At a rally in Tallahassee, the Rev. Jesse Jackson declared that the Texas governor had "stolen" the election.
"He'll be the president legally, but he does not have moral authority," Mr. Jackson said after the rally. "Because his crown did not come from the people it came from the judges."
Other Democrats were similarly dismayed. Before Mr. Gore's concession speech, some Democrats on Capitol Hill urged the vice president to refrain from using the word "concede."
Instead, they implored him to say instead that he was merely "withdrawing" from a race he didn't really lose. They said the election was a "tie." Mr. Gore ignored the advice.
"I know that many of my supporters are disappointed I am too but our disappointment must be overcome by our love of country," he said. "We will stand together behind our new president." On the other side of the aisle, Republicans tried to hide their glee.
The ordeal now ends with Mr. Gore, 52, exiled to the political purgatory reserved for candidates who have lost multiple presidential races. Twelve years ago, fellow Democrats Michael Dukakis and Mr. Jackson prevented him from advancing to the general election, where he would have faced Mr. Bush's father.
"Some things matter to me more than winning," Mr. Gore said in his 1988 concession speech. "Knowing when to keep fighting and knowing when I've been licked."
This time around, the vice president seemed to place a greater emphasis on winning.
"I'm not like George Bush. If he wins or loses, life goes on," Mr. Gore was quoted by an aide as saying as his campaign geared up last year. "I'll do anything to win."
Although Gore officials later disavowed the remark, they never disputed Mr. Gore's 1991 prescription for a successful political campaign. "You go out and run with all your heart and soul," he said. "Then you rip the lungs out of anyone else."
Many Democrats are privately furious at the race Mr. Gore ran. They note that Mr. Gore was blessed with the powers of incumbency, a remarkable era of peace and prosperity, and an opponent whom Democrats regarded as politically and intellectually inferior.
The vice president's failure to capitalize on these advantages is expected to significantly limit his chances for a third run at the White House in 2004. Some Democrats argue that his speech last night was the swan song of his 24-year career in politics, which included eight years each in the House, Senate and White House.
Last night's extraordinary back-to-back speeches by Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush ended an unprecedented chapter in American history that began on Election Night, when TV networks erroneously called Florida for the vice president even before the polls had closed. Republicans later said this dissuaded some 10,000 Bush supporters in Florida's Panhandle, in the Central Time Zone, from voting. By the time the networks corrected themselves, the polls had closed. As Tuesday gave way to Wednesday, the networks declared Mr. Bush the winner of both Florida and the presidency.
Mr. Gore telephoned the Texas governor at about 3 a.m. to concede the race and offer his congratulations. But an hour later, as he was being driven to the War Memorial Building in Nashville to deliver his concession speech, late returns showed the Bush lead dwindling into recount territory.
Mr. Gore called Mr. Bush again, this time to retract his concession.
"Circumstances have changed dramatically since I first called you," said Mr. Gore, according to aides who reconstructed the conversation. "Florida is too close to call."
"Are you saying what I think you're saying?" an incredulous Mr. Bush replied. "Let me make sure that I understand: You're calling back to retract that concession?"
"Don't get snippy about it," Mr. Gore shot back.
The vice president argued that it would be unwise to publicly concede with Florida still in flux. Mr. Bush countered that research by his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, showed a Republican victory.
"With all due respect to your younger brother," Mr. Gore said, "he is not the final arbiter of who wins Florida."
"Do what you have to do," Mr. Bush said.
Within hours, a plane carrying 70 Democratic operatives touched down in Tallahassee, the capital of Florida, to set up a command post from which to launch the political equivalent of trench warfare. Hundreds of other Gore loyalists fanned out across the state to probe for Bush weaknesses that could be attacked with lawsuits.
The machine recount, which Florida law mandates in close elections, affirmed the Bush victory. But Gore lawyers seized on Palm Beach County's so-called "butterfly ballot," saying it confused thousands of would-be Gore supporters into voting for Reform Party candidate Patrick J. Buchanan.
When it became apparent that it would be all but impossible to secure a new election in Palm Beach, Gore lawyers shifted their strategy and demanded hand recounts in a handful of predominately Democratic counties.
A federal judge refused a request by the Bush team to halt the hand recounts. But a local judge in Tallahassee ruled that Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris did not have to accept results from any tallies submitted after the deadline set by Florida law.
That ruling was overturned by the seven justices of the Florida Supreme Court, all of whom were appointed by Democrats. The court unanimously extended the deadline by 12 days to accommodate the Democratic counties.
Still, Palm Beach County was unable to meet the extended deadline. And Miami-Dade County, after conducting a sample hand count, decided against a countywide tally because there was not enough time.
On Nov. 26, Mrs. Harris certified Mr. Bush as the winner of Florida's 25 electoral votes. He had officially beaten Mr. Gore by 537 votes out of 6 million cast.
Mr. Gore filed a lawsuit contesting the outcome. After a two-day, 23-hour trial, Leon County Circuit Judge N. Sanders Sauls, a Democrat, ruled that Mr. Gore had utterly failed to prove his case.
The vice president appealed the ruling to the Florida Supreme Court, which was widely expected to decline the case because the seven justices had just been rebuked by the U.S. Supreme Court. The nation's high court "vacated," or wiped from the books, the earlier ruling for Mr. Gore by the Florida justices.
Undaunted, the Florida Supreme Court stunned the nation on Friday by ordering new hand recounts from one end of the state to the other. A local judge was charged with hastily devising procedures for the counts, which fitfully commenced the next morning.
But the tallies were stopped in their tracks hours later by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled late Tuesday that the recounts were unconstitutional.
By 10 a.m. yesterday, Mr. Gore had called his underlings in Tallahassee and instructed them to give up the fight.
But later, relishing his role as the Rasputin of American politics, he told campaign chairman William M. Daley that he had changed his mind. He had decided to fight the ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court after all.
Mr. Gore hastened to add that he was only kidding.

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