- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2000

AUSTIN, Texas This time it was the father's turn to watch and worry.

Four times in past presidential elections in 1980, 1984, 1988 and 1992 George W. Bush watched and often agonized on election night as the nation decided his father's political fate.

The elder Bush won the first two as Ronald Reagan's running mate, won the presidency in 1988 and then lost in 1992 to Bill Clinton.

The Texas governor has spoken about caring so much and feeling so helpless during his father's national campaigns that he could not even watch one of his dad's presidential debates. And he is known to have been pained deeply by his father's loss eight years ago.

Last night, former President George Bush was the one on pins and needles as he watched the returns with his eldest son at the governor's mansion in Austin.

"It's much harder to be the loved one than to be the candidate," the Texas governor said of his parents. "I experienced that in 1988 and 1992, so I can understand why they're nervous. They're nervous for me personally."

So one of the first things the younger Bush did after waking up yesterday was to call his parents and tell them not to worry.

Thousands of Texans braved cold, dreary weather last night to throw a distinctly Lone Star party for their governor and to watch the tantalizingly close election returns roll in across the nation.

The crowd in Austin had dwindled to only a few hundred standing amid sodden paper cups when TV networks announced Mr. Bush the winner about 1:20 a.m. CST.

They erupted into delirium, waving signs and banners while others streamed back into the plaza hoping to hear Mr. Bush finally give his victory speech.

But the Florida victory that apparently put Mr. Bush over the top was still in doubt at 4 a.m.

The plaza in front of the state Capitol had been filled with supporters shivering from apprehension and temperatures that dropped into the 40s. As they waited for the electoral map to take shape on giant TV screens, they were entertained by Texas guitar legend Jimmy Vaughan and the South Austin Gospel Choir.

"We're proud of our hometown boy," said Lisa Salem of Austin. "He says the same things we think, about family values, about faith, about integrity."

The crowd's emotions rose and fell as CNN projected states in red for Mr. Bush and blue for Mr. Gore. One of the loudest cheers erupted when CNN was forced to retreat from its announcement shortly before 10 p.m. EST that Mr. Gore had won Florida. And they cheered just as loudly when former Education Secretary William Bennett scolded CNN for calling the state too early.

"We were down, but now we're back up," said Wayne Turner of Brownwood, Texas, after Florida returned to the undecided column. "I don't like CNN neither ways. They used to have at least a semblance of fairness."

Mr. Turner and his wife wore dozens of Bush campaign buttons on their chests, including one that was 9 inches in diameter.

"Everything's bigger in Texas," he explained.

Mr. Bush and his family had begun to watch returns last night at the Four Seasons hotel in Austin, but during dinner the family changed plans abruptly and returned to the governor's mansion.

As the race seesawed, the former president told reporters that watching his son's fate was a "hell of a lot worse" than going through his own re-election bid in 1992.

"Ditto," said Barbara Bush.

"He's run a great race," said the candidate's father.

Mr. Bush also took a call last night from Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge after the networks projected that Mr. Bush lost the state.

"He's not conceding anything, and I'm not either in the state of Pennsylvania," Mr. Bush said. "Nor are we in Florida."

Mr. Bush appeared outwardly serene yesterday while America voted. After getting four or five hours of sleep the previous night at the governor's mansion, he read verses from the Bible yesterday morning, although aides did not know which passages.

Also, as is his routine, he fed the family's two cats and dog and brought his wife coffee in bed.

Laura Bush and her husband voted at the Travis County Courthouse downtown in late morning. Mrs. Bush told reporters she was nervous and put her hand on her stomach as if to indicate it was in knots.

But then she said, "I feel good. We got a lot of sleep in our own bed, with our own animals."

The candidate sounded like a man who had no regrets.

"It was like a marathon in many ways," he said. "A marathon runner has to be conditioned and focused. And I feel our campaign was a disciplined campaign focused on a message of what's best for America."

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