NASHVILLE, Tenn. Vice President Al Gore sweated through the tight presidential election last night, alternately moving from conceding the election to rival George W. Bush to retracting his concession.
Mr. Gore, his running mate, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, and their wives, Tipper and Hadassah, remained secluded at the Loews Hotel into the early morning hours, watching the returns.
At 1:10 a.m., weary Gore supporters lingered around a television set in a bar at the Sheraton Nashville Downtown, awaiting word from Florida.
“Right now I’m just tired, but I’ve never seen anything this close before,” said Dave Schnake, 51, a chemical company personnel manager from Elizabethtown, Ky.
“I’d characterize it almost like a football game going back and forth with the lead,” Mr. Schnake said as a Gore-Lieberman sign drooped from his right hand.
“This will probably be the election for this century,” Mr. Schnake said. “This will the one that will be talked about forever.”
The mood of Gore staffers in Nashville became more uncertain as television networks revised early projections and moved Florida’s 25 electoral votes from Mr. Gore’s column to a tossup.
“It’s the official results, obviously, that determine the election,” spokesman Doug Hattaway told reporters last night at the Sheraton Nashville Downtown, before networks announced Florida for Mr. Bush at approximately 2:20 a.m., a result that was still in doubt around 4 a.m.
The Gore aide had appeared more confident earlier in the evening, when premature network projections gave Florida to the Democratic ticket, as well as two other major swing states, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
“The pundits have had their say,” Mr. Hattaway told reporters earlier in the evening. “Today it is time for the voters to have their say and they may be surprising the pundits,” he said.
Mr. Gore, coming off a 30-hour campaign swing, continued to work without sleep, conducting dozens of television and radio interviews in Western states after the polls had closed in the East.
“By my watch, he’s been going about 38 hours,” Mr. Hattaway told reporters last night.
But Mr. Gore, who represented Tennessee for 16 years in the House and the Senate, lost the fight for 11 electoral votes in his home state.
The Gores returned to the Loews Hotel in Nashville yesterday afternoon, after voting at an elementary school in Elmwood and sharing a lunch of fried chicken and mashed potatoes in Carthage with Mr. Gore’s mother, known as Miss Pauline.
“I voted for my husband, Al Gore, and it was a thrill,” Tipper Gore said after the Gores voted at Forks River Elementary School in Elmwood, a tiny town next to Carthage, where Mr. Gore owns a farm.
At 3 p.m., Mr. Gore began to conduct a series of television interviews in key markets such as Philadelphia; Kansas City, Mo.; Denver; Albuquerque, N.M.; the Iowa cities of Des Moines and Cedar Rapids; St. Louis; Detroit; and Nashville.
The vice president trailed in national polls leading up to the election. But Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile insisted all along that the Democrats’ get-out-the-vote effort featuring 40 million telephone calls and 50,000 volunteers could make up as many as four percentage points on Election Day.
Mr. Gore headed home to vote at the end of a 30-hour stretch in which he barnstormed through Iowa, Missouri, Michigan and Florida.
The final day of Mr. Gore’s presidential campaign began with a star-studded midnight rally in Miami, where entertainers such as Stevie Wonder, Jon Bon Jovi, Robert De Niro, Ben Affleck, Billy Dee Williams and Glenn Close urged Florida to back the vice president.
Mr. Gore then flew to Tampa, Fla., where he continued to stress issues. At 4:30 a.m., a bleary-eyed Mr. Gore sat with nurses at the Moffitt Cancer Center and discussed health care.
Mr. Gore left the cancer center about 5:30 a.m. and headed for the Florida Bakery, in a small strip mall. Just before 6 a.m., Mr. Gore and Mr. Lieberman met to sip Cuban-style coffee from tiny plastic sample cups.
Mr. Gore lifted his cup and toasted Mr. Lieberman, who is Jewish, saying “L’chaim,” Hebrew for “To life.” Mr. Gore downed his coffee in one gulp.
“That’s good,” Mr. Gore said. “That feels like eight hours of sleep.”
Mr. Lieberman asked Mr. Gore: “Are you in overdrive?”
“I do not feel tired,” Mr. Gore said. The vice president then turned to reporters and said mischievously: “I think we’ll put a couple more cities on.”
In their final rally of a grueling campaign, Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Gore greeted campaign workers at the Hillsborough County Coordinated Campaign Headquarters, a small white cement building in a Cuban section of Tampa.
Mr. Lieberman, his usual ebullience sapped by fatigue, recalled that Mr. Gore named him his running mate Aug. 7.
“I just want to say to him: ‘thank you,’ ” Mr. Lieberman said, noting they have grown closer over the last 12 weeks.
Mr. Lieberman referred to the “majesty and mystery of Election Day” as the sky began to lighten and turn gray and orange.
“This is the last official stop of Campaign 2000,” Mr. Gore said, as he began his last speech of the marathon campaign.
“It’s not an accident that it’s here in Tampa. It’s not an accident that it’s in west-central Florida, because Florida may very well be the state that decides the outcome of this election,” the vice president added in a statement that became prophetic as the night progressed.