- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2000

Vice President Al Gore called George W. Bush at 2:30 this morning to congratulate him on his apparent victory, only to call back an hour later to retract his concession as the Bush margin of victory in Florida dwindled to about 1,200 votes, a margin that under Florida law compels a recount.
The recount will begin as early as this morning, conducted in each county. Florida election officials believe as many as 3,000 votes remain to be counted, including 2,000 votes from military personnel overseas and the rest in scattered counties across Florida.
Broward County, north of Miami, was left with some votes still uncounted early today. There, where the vice president had captured 68 percent of the vote, the count was 99.84 percent complete. This suggests only one or two precincts, but this box, or boxes, remained uncounted for several hours.
Florida election officials said that if the final tally shows either candidate winning by less than 0.05 percent, an automatic recount would begin, as prescribed by state law.
The startling development threw the outcome of the closest election in 40 years into chaos just as Mr. Bush's victory seemed assured.
From the beginning, the source of the turmoil was Florida, which the networks had erroneously declared Mr. Gore's less than an hour after polls in the state closed at 7 p.m. After protestations by Mr. Bush and his aides that the projection was premature, the networks moved it back into the tossup category just before 10 p.m.
It remained there for hours, even as most other states broke for Mr. Bush or Mr. Gore. By 2 a.m., Florida was one of only four states where a winner had not been declared.
At 2:05 a.m., the networks gave Florida to Mr. Bush, pushing him to 271 electoral votes or one more than needed for victory. Yet not all ballots had been counted, and as the night wore on, Mr. Bush's margin of error grew ever thinner.
Still, Mr. Gore telephoned Mr. Bush to offer his congratulations at about 2:30 a.m. The Texas governor praised the vice president as a good man and formidable opponent. Mr. Gore was said to have remarked that the two of them "gave America a cliffhanger."
"I know this is not easy," Mr. Bush reportedly told his vanquished foe. "Give Mrs. Gore my best."
With that the vice president boarded his motorcade and headed to what was supposed to be a victory-rally-turned-concession-speech in Nashville, Tenn. But as doubts grew, Mr. Gore did not appear before supporters waiting in the rain to concede.
At 4:05 a.m., Gore campaign manager William Daley appeared at the rally instead of Mr. Gore to deliver a stunning statement that put the entire election in a state of limbo never before seen in the annals of American politics.
"I've been in politics a very long time, but I don't think there's ever been a night like this one," Mr. Daley said. "Just an hour or so ago, the TV networks called this race for Governor Bush."
As the crowd erupted in boos, he added: "It now appears that their call was premature."
Mr. Daley went on to explain that with 99.9 percent of the votes tallied in Florida, Mr. Bush was ahead by "only about 1,200 votes out of millions cast, with over 5,000 votes left to be counted." That triggers an automatic recount under Florida law, he said.
"As everyone knows in America, this race has come down to the state of Florida," he said. "Without being certain of the results in Florida, we simply cannot be certain of the results of this national election.
"Let me add that Vice President Gore and Senator Lieberman are fully prepared to concede and to support Governor Bush if and when he is officially elected president. But this race is simply too close to call."
He concluded that until "the recount is concluded and the results in Florida become official, our campaign continues."
The crowd erupted in lusty cheers and sustained applause.
Twenty minutes later in Austin, Bush campaign adviser Don Evans addressed the crowd of Bush supporters.
"We hope and believe we have elected the next president of the United States," he said to wild cheering. "The latest vote count in the state of Florida shows Governor Bush winning that state by more than 1,200 votes. They're still counting and I'm confident, when it's all said and done, we will prevail."
It was by far the closest presidential election in 40 years, with Mr. Gore still leading Mr. Bush by three electoral votes as late as 2 a.m.
Mr. Bush took Mr. Gore's home state of Tennessee and President Clinton's home state of Arkansas.
Few elections in U.S. history were closer than the titanic struggle. With 90 percent of the nation's ballots counted by early today, Mr. Bush had 49 percent of the popular vote, or 44,777,278 votes, and Mr. Gore had 48 percent, or 44,432,642 votes. Green Party candidate Ralph Nader had 2,333,225 votes.
Mr. Gore won two of the three most closely watched battleground states, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania, which seesawed between the candidates at various stages of the campaign, slipped into the Gore column early on with the strong support of voters in Philadelphia and its suburbs. According to a CNN exit poll, the 10 percent of Pennsylvania voters who made up their minds in the final three days broke heavily for Mr. Gore, 53 percent to 36 percent.
It was the second time Michigan Gov. John Engler failed to deliver his state for Mr. Bush, which lost the primary to Arizona Sen. John McCain. A CNN exit poll showed that 42 percent of Michigan voters were from union households, which broke almost 2-1 for Mr. Gore.
Initially, Mr. Gore appeared to benefit in many states by a heavy turnout of blacks and union members. Turnout was so heavy in Missouri that a federal judge ordered polls kept open until 10 p.m. The late Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan, who died in a plane crash last month, remained on the ballot and won, with his wife planning to fill his seat.
Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore officially declared their candidacies within four days of each other in June 1999. But their unofficial campaigns began months earlier.
As a two-term incumbent vice president, Mr. Gore was the de facto nominee for the Democratic Party and began quietly plotting his campaign in the summer of 1998. There were early rumblings of a challenge from House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, or perhaps Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Bob Kerrey of Nebraska.
But these Democratic members of Congress opted not to take on Mr. Gore, leaving the field open for former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, who declared his candidacy in January 1999. The former NBA star was initially given so little chance of success that Mr. Gore spent the first nine months ignoring him.
But Mr. Bradley's liberal idealism and offbeat campaigning style gradually attracted an eclectic mix of disaffected Democrats and moneyed Wall Street donors who remembered his basketball prowess. By the end of September 1999, Mr. Bradley had drawn even or ahead of Mr. Gore in key states in the Northeast.
The vice president responded by abruptly challenging Mr. Bradley to a series of debates, moving his campaign headquarters from Washington to Nashville and declaring himself the underdog. Mr. Bradley smelled blood in the water.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bush had emerged early as the likely nominee on the Republican side. He caught the attention of party elders even before decisively winning re-election in Texas with a surprising number of black and Hispanic votes in November 1998.
After the demoralizing defeat of former Sen. Bob Dole in the 1996 presidential election, GOP leaders saw in Mr. Bush a new generation of Republican who had proven in Texas that he could win over Democrats and independents and govern from the sensible center.
But the primary field on the Republican side grew much more crowded than on the Democratic side. Mr. Bush faced fierce competition from Arizona Sen. John McCain and magazine publisher Steve Forbes, as well as from a second tier of challengers like Christian conservative Gary Bauer, firebrand Alan Keyes and Utah Sen. Orrin G. Hatch.
It was Mr. McCain, however, who emerged as the most serious threat to the Texas governor. Opting to forgo the Iowa caucuses and put all his political eggs into the New Hampshire primary, Mr. McCain wooed the media with unfettered access on his campaign bus, which he dubbed the "Straight Talk Express."
Mr. McCain won not only New Hampshire, but also Michigan, Massachusetts, Arizona, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Vermont, throwing a serious scare into the Bush camp. The Republican establishment, which distrusted Mr. McCain, redoubled its support of Mr. Bush, who made his stand in South Carolina.
The Texas governor won the state handily, effectively ending the McCain challenge. But he was criticized for failing to call for the removal of the Confederate battle flag over the Statehouse and giving a speech at Bob Jones University, which espouses anti-Catholic teachings.
While Mr. Bush had been forced to the right by Mr. McCain, Mr. Gore was moving leftward to thwart Mr. Bradley. During one of their primary debates, the vice president said he would administer a pro-gay litmus test to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, only to backpedal from the pledge later.
Mr. Gore and Mr. Bradley squared off in four debates, with each candidate appearing to win two. The most heated exchange occurred on NBC's "Meet the Press," when Mr. Bradley refused to shake the outstretched hand of Mr. Gore, who was proposing weekly debates and a ban on TV ads.
Although the cerebral Mr. Bradley was never comfortable openly attacking Mr. Gore, he ended up deriding the vice president as a craven, flip-flopping, closet conservative who would say anything to get elected. The bitterness lingered when he withdrew from the race in March 2000, refusing to endorse his Democratic rival.
Once Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore emerged as the inevitable nominees of their parties, the Texas governor enjoyed double-digit leads over the vice president for well over a year. Throughout the summer of 2000, Democrats insisted their man would finally step out of Mr. Clinton's shadow at the Democratic National Convention and finish Mr. Bush off in the presidential debates.
The first half of their prediction came true even before the convention began. In early August, Mr. Gore chose as his running mate Connecticut Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, a moralizer who took to the Senate floor to publicly excoriate President Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky.
The selection of Mr. Lieberman was widely viewed as a bold stroke that buoyed the Gore campaign even more than the vice president had anticipated. Not only did Mr. Lieberman lend moral ballast to the Democratic team, he was also the first Orthodox Jew on a major national ticket. Mr. Gore was portrayed as having broken a barrier of religious intolerance.
At the Democratic convention, Mr. Gore wowed the party faithful with a long, detailed speech in which he declared himself his own man. While acknowledging he lacked personal charisma, he cast himself as the safe, sensible successor to Mr. Clinton's turbulent tenure.
The other lasting image from the convention was the vice president planting an impassioned kiss on his startled wife, Tipper. Much was made of "The Kiss" in explaining female voters' preference for the vice president.
The Kiss, The Speech and The Veep combined to push Mr. Gore ahead of Mr. Bush for the first time since polling of the race had begun more than a year earlier. The advantage continued throughout September.
By the time the debates rolled around in October, expectations were sky high for Mr. Gore to finish off the Texas governor. The vice president was widely viewed as the superior debater, while Mr. Bush was portrayed as an intellectual lightweight who was no match for Mr. Gore's wonkish love of policy details.
To make matters worse for Mr. Bush, he initially refused to participate in the trio of faceoffs planned by the Presidential Debate Commission. While the Texas governor dickered for friendlier forums, many voters saw him as afraid of the vice president.
But the debates proved to be a turning point for Mr. Bush. Expectations were so low that he came across as surprisingly well-informed in the first debate, which was dominated by foreign policy questions. He also charmed viewers with a plain-spoken affability.
Mr. Gore, by contrast, was roundly criticized for sighing heavily, rolling his eyes, interrupting often and generally looking exasperated and condescending. He was also battered for embellishing the truth in the first debate, which reinforced the reputation he had gained earlier in the campaign as an exaggerator.
Eight days later, Mr. Gore dramatically altered his demeanor in the second debate, going out of his way to appear agreeable and subdued. He was roundly chastised for reinventing himself yet again, leaving Mr. Bush to claim a second victory.
The vice president finally hit his stride in the third debate, aggressively challenging Mr. Bush while keeping his sighs in check. But as his own pollster, Stanley Greenberg, later acknowledged, the die had been cast in the first debate.
Mr. Nader emerged as a growing threat as the campaign drew to a close. In state after state, Mr. Nader's single-digit support appeared to tip the balance toward Mr. Bush by draining liberal votes from the vice president.
In an effort to stop the hemorrhaging of the Democratic base, Mr. Clinton belatedly hit the campaign trail in the closing weeks, urging blacks and other core constituencies to turn out in force at the polls. But the re-emergence of the scandal-plagued president on the scene only served to remind independent voters of impeachment and the Lewinsky scandal.
In a final plot twist, the press reported on Thursday that Mr. Bush had been cited for driving under the influence of alcohol 24 years ago. The Texas governor was forced to confirm the story to his twin teen-age daughters and then face a press that demanded to know what else he had been hiding from the American public.
Dave Boyer, with the Bush campaign in Austin, Texas, and staff researcher John Haydon contributed to this report.

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