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Election 2000: Florida Ballot Sparks Controversy in Unresolved Presidential Race; Reform Candidate Pat Buchanan Holds News Conference

Aired November 8, 2000 - 10:01 a.m. ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: It has been a wild and some would say weird 24 hours here in the U.S., and it continues to be a question right now. We mentioned the word "limbo." Indeed, that's where things stand right now in the race for the White House. Things, indeed, are up in the air. They are hanging there in the balance. We are unsure at this time, indeed, who will be the next president of the United States.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Far from being resolved.

And it's a good message to American voters out there: If you've ever questioned the value of your one, lonely vote in the vast electoral landscape, you ponder no more. The nation is now standing at the threshold of one of the tightest presidential elections in U.S. history.

We may also witness a rare political quirk sure to ignite political debate. Al Gore right now is poised to win the popular vote with a number of votes over George W. Bush. Yet Bush, as of this moment, is on track to win the election, and that is because of the way that it works in the Constitution here in the U.S. He may leapfrog Gore in the all-decisive electoral vote.

How does that work? Well, by capturing the battleground state of Florida and its jackpot of 25 electoral votes. But we need to stress the Florida vote is not yet locked in. Election officials are still tallying thousands of outstanding absentee votes. And even then, if Bush retains the lead, the state is in the process of a recount. That is automatic any time a race is decided in Florida by less than one half of 1 percent.

HEMMER: There was drama last evening for hours at a time. It subsided somewhat only because we're hanging here again waiting for results. But that overnight seesaw left more than the election just up in the air, it also left the candidates strapped right now into a juggernaut of emotions.

KAGAN: Right. And I actually want to lean over here, want to show you just how crazy things are. This is the Atlanta paper here in Atlanta, Georgia, different headlines, the first headline reading, "Gore, Bush battle to the wire; Miller is elected to the Senate." The next one they had to come out with, "Bush is declared the winner; Florida turns the tide -- the Florida vote turns the tide." And then finally, they had to change again, "Bush said to win, but Florida vote is questioned." These indeed will be -- here we go.

HEMMER: And not just here in the city of Atlanta.

KAGAN: Right.

HEMMER: Newspapers across the country getting it one way and then shifting another way, some playing it close and tight and others looking for that deadline. And eventually we saw the mastheads coming out across the country and the headlines saying there was a bit of a contradiction out there. And, again, that is again the point where we stand right now.

KAGAN: And as you know, there's newspaper collectors around the country gobbling those up this morning.

HEMMER: And for all the folks overseas watching us right now, there's a very famous picture from 1948...

KAGAN: Thomas Dewey.

HEMMER: ... when Harry Truman was running for president and the headline said, "Dewey Defeats Truman." Indeed, that was not the case. When Americans went to bed that night, they thought that was the outcome. But when they woke up the next morning, it was not to be.

But, again, right now we're locked in the closest race we have seen certainly in our lifetimes, and quite possibly ever.

KAGAN: And at one point last night -- to talk more about the up- and-down seesaw aspect of the night, at one point Al Gore actually conceded the race. He called George W. Bush only to retract that phone call an hour later. At another point, the Bush campaign was plunged into darkness when it looked like it had lost. Now neither campaign is showing signs of surrender.


WILLIAM DALEY, GORE CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: 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 Sen. Lieberman are fully prepared to concede and to support Gov. Bush if and when he is officially elected president, but this race is simply too close to call. And until the results -- the recount is concluded and the results in Florida become official, our campaign continues.


KAGAN: The campaigns do continue, but with the candidates in the shadows now. Both Gore and Bush are apparently remaining out of sight until there is a clearer image of the Florida emerging. HEMMER: All right, from the Bush campaign now in Austin, Texas, far from declaring victory, is showing decidedly more confidence than its opponents even though some six hours have passed. An earlier glint of optimism still shining for some folks in Texas right now.


DON EVANS, BUSH CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: Gov. Bush and Secretary Cheney asked me to thank you for all your terrific support and hard work. We hope and believe we have elected the next president of the United States.


The latest count -- the latest vote count in the state of Florida shows Gov. Bush winning that state by more than 1,200 votes.


They're still counting, they're still counting, and I'm confident, when it's all said and done, we will prevail.


Thank you again for all your hard work and all your efforts, and we look forward to a great celebration. God bless.


HEMMER: Now, on this Wednesday morning, again, it's 10:00 a.m. on the East Coast here, 7:00 a.m. in California, and a lot of folks with some tired eyes today. But if anyone has gotten a little less sleep than the candidates, it might be the reporters actually covering the two candidates.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve among the many troops entering now a second exhausting day. She's outside the governor's mansion and the Texas capitol building there in Austin, Texas.

Jeanne, hello again.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Bill. A state of suspended animation, I'd say, here today. The press office of the campaign is taking messages, but they tell us they're not returning any calls this morning, they're waiting.

What are they waiting for? Well, we're not exactly sure. Obviously they'd love to have a final result, but that doesn't appear to be imminent at this point. I can tell you that although the crowds have left here in Austin, everything's in place for a celebration or for a concession. We're not sure which. The camera platforms are in place, the stages are in place, the sound systems are in place, the big-screen TVs in place, everything just waiting, waiting, waiting, as we are, to find out what's happened to this race.

HEMMER: All right, Jeanne, thanks a lot. Jeanne Meserve there live in Austin. We'll be back in touch and hopefully we'll find out, also, what the governor has planned for today. Stay tuned for that.

Now Daryn.

KAGAN: Meanwhile, we turn to the Gore campaign. Some great stories just to show you how dramatic things were last night. The vice president embarked on what may have been the longest car ride of his life, but it stopped just short of its destination. Just about seven hours ago, Gore was being driven to Nashville's War Memorial Plaza to make his concession speech. Less than two blocks away, though, he received a call that put the brakes on those plans and that speech.

CNN's Jonathan Karl has been covering the Gore campaign.

Jonathan, watching it at home, you could here the cue that there was a one-minute warning, a one-minute morning before the vice president was going to walk up and give this concession speech.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What a scene. I mean, everybody there in the War Memorial Plaza was waiting for Gore to come out, including the reporters. Everybody thought it was going to be Gore coming to the state. As a matter of fact, the woman that does the sign language interpretation was already in place. Everything was done.

Gore, of course, had his concession speech written and in his hand, but then there came Bill Daley, his campaign chairman, to say the campaign goes on because we don't know what's going on in Florida.

Now, the very latest out of Nashville is that the Gore campaign has sent a team of 70 people down to Florida led by Ron Klain -- he's the vice president's former chief of staff -- led by Ron Klain to Florida to overlook this recount operation in Florida. We can assume that the Bush campaign will also have its people on the ground to, again, oversee this recount operation in Florida.

KAGAN: Jonathan Karl, live, thank you very much from Nashville, Tennessee.

And just as Jonathan was giving that report, we have news into CNN one of the Senate races that was in limbo, we can now call the Senate race from Michigan, and we can now say that Debbie Stabenow, the challenger, has defeated the incumbent Spencer Abraham. That means yet another woman in the Senate. As that number increases, she'll be joining Hillary Rodham Clinton and also Jean Carnahan from the state of Missouri.

Once again, this race just being called now, the Senate race from Michigan, Debbie Stabenow, the challenger, beating the incumbent Spencer Abraham.

HEMMER: Daryn, want to take our viewers now back to the state of Florida. Apparently there has been a bit of confusion surrounding ballots in one part of that state.

George Bennett is a reporter for the "Palm Beach Post." He's with us by telephone now.

Sir, can you hear me OK?


HEMMER: I want to put up on the screen now for our viewers a sample of the ballot that was in the Palm Beach area. And as we're looking at the screen right here, give us an indication for where the confusion was all about as we see the highlighted version there, with Al Gore and Joe Lieberman on the left and Pat Buchanan to the right.

BENNETT: The confusion was -- and I can't see the picture that you're showing clearly, but...

HEMMER: But you have seen the ballot, correct?



BENNETT: The presidential candidates were put on two facing pages and the -- but the holes that you punched to vote for one of the candidates were in a single column that ran between the pages. So the confusion basically was that a large number of people who wanted to vote for Al Gore either voted or thought they might have voted for Pat Buchanan, who had the punch hole directly above Gore.

HEMMER: And so it was just a succession in the line of dots we see going down the middle of the page? Is that what we're trying to clarify here?

BENNETT: Right. Now there's an arrow next to each candidate that points to the dot that you're -- to the hole that you're supposed to punch, but some people were still confused by it.

HEMMER: What's the suggestion, George, by officials down there in Florida right now? Is this a case where they would go back and look through the ballots and throw these out or revote, or I mean is that even a possibility right now in Florida?

BENNETT: Well, the Division of Elections chief for the state of Florida saw the ballot from Palm Beach County and thought that it was OK. In Florida, each county designs its own ballot and there were 10 presidential candidates on the ballot in Florida this year. And in order to make the type big enough for the large number of older voters in Palm Beach County, the supervisor of elections in this county, Palm Beach County, decided to put them on two pages to accommodate larger type rather than squeezing them onto one page.

HEMMER: OK, in -- George, in Palm Beach County, then, how many ballots are we talking about?

BENNETT: Well, Pat Buchanan got 3,407 votes in Palm Beach County, which is less than 1 percent of the total votes cast here. Ralph Nader got about 5,500 votes. And Buchanan did poll -- in some very heavily Democratic precincts, he polled 25 or 30 votes, 40 votes in some of these very heavily Democratic precincts.

HEMMER: And, George, I don't want you to speculate on this, but is it a possibility this is much ado about nothing, ultimately, in the end, or is there a legitimate possibility something may come out of this?

BENNETT: Yesterday afternoon while the voting was still going on and a lot of angry people were coming to the elections office, Congressman Robert Wexler and some other elected officials were there and nobody said so directly, but certainly the suggestion was made that, you know, at the end of the day there might be some kind of challenge, that that was certainly a possibility they were looking at.

HEMMER: All right, from the "Palm Beach Post," that's George Bennett with us by telephone there in Florida. Something to watch. We got word of it several hours ago. But, indeed, if anything comes of it, we shall find out a bit later than sooner, apparently.

Here's Daryn now.

KAGAN: Meanwhile, one man we know who will not be the next president of the United States, Pat Buchanan, the Reform Party candidate. He's speaking right now in Washington, D.C. Let's listen in.


PAT BUCHANAN (REF), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... to throw us off the ballot, where we had gone and gotten on the ballot with a tremendous exertion and effort all through those primaries.

And so, we weren't even on the ballot. And finally in Michigan, they managed, even though we got the parties on the ballot, they refused to put me on the ballot.

So all of these things contributed to the fact by the time we got into the race, the race was very much decided. It was Bush versus Gore and the red-hot third party candidate was Ralph Nader. Now those are the - that's what happens in politics.

And as I say, if I hadn't had the gall bladder surgery, we might have gotten -- we got 17,000 votes in Florida. If we'd gotten 20,000, Bush would have lost the state and the presidency.

So I sort of thank God that we had the gall bladder surgery, because I think it's better for America that Mr. Bush be appointing Supreme Court justices than that Al Gore be appointing Supreme Court justices.

And I think what happened yesterday, frankly, Mr. Gore's loss is, the American people voted to convict Bill Clinton. I think that's what happened to Mr. Gore because -- let me say one final thing and I'll go to the questions.

Being out there on the campaign trail, there was very little emotion in this campaign. There was very little discussion of grave national issues that are of concern: issues like who lost Russia; an issue like who's responsible for the fact that Russia and China, whom Nixon had separated, are brought back together; who's responsible for the collapse of our policy of dual containment in the Gulf, and what are we going to do about it; do we really want to expand NATO; are we going to deal with the problem of America's borders. None of these things were even discussed. It was a vapid and vacuous campaign as far as issues are concerned.

And so with that -- and I regret that is the case, and let me correct something that the AP reported yesterday.

KAGAN: We've been listening to Reform Party presidential candidate Pat Buchanan as he speaks in Washington, D.C. Mr. Buchanan starting as a Republican, later joining the Reform Party and taking its $12.5 million in campaign funds, in the end not doing well, getting less than 1 percent of the vote and saying today that he's happy he didn't do that well because he believes this is going to lead to the election of George W. Bush as the next president of the United States.

Of course, if you've been watching any of the coverage, it's too close to call yet. Right now, Al Gore has the popular vote; electoral vote still yet to be decided. And, of course, as we're following the situation in Florida, the recount and many discrepancies in that state as well.

HEMMER: Indeed. And that's the race for the White House. There's a race for Congress wide open out there, too, between the House and the Senate.

Want to go back to Washington to pick things up with Frank Sesno.

And I guess, Frank, when it's all said and done, there is going to be some serious analyzing of this particular campaign. And one has to start to think at which point or which segment of this race helped to swing things either one way or the other. But safe to say at this point, who knows that argument? because, ultimately, we don't have the outcome.

KAGAN: We don't have a mandate, Right.

SESNO: We don't have the outcome in terms of how the states are going to break down, but we do have the outcome in terms of our national exit polls to give us some indication of how people voted. And I think as you look at this, you get a sense of the split personality, really, of the country and why we've come out with such an uncertain, and more to the point, such a razor-sharp, close edge.

Take a look at men and women as how they voted for Gore and Bush. They split. Men voted 42 Gore, 53 Bush. Flip it around, women voted precisely, or almost precisely, the opposite. Take a look at working women in particular. Gore won rather handily among working women -- 31 percent of the voters said they were working women -- 58-39.

However, look at the union vote. While union members turned out reliably for Al Gore, only 26 percent, about a quarter of the vote, say they're union members. The three-quarters who said they were not voted 52-44 for Bush.

So you see in one category after the next this real split. Bad news for Al Gore. For someone who -- those who voted for Bill Clinton in 1996, 15 percent of them went over and voted for George W. Bush this time.

So as you start too look into this, you see that there was no sort of sweeping consistent theme here. Gore won neither overwhelmingly, the women vote, though he got the gender-gap edge, nor did he nail down completely that Clinton vote.

KAGAN: Frank, do you think it's fair to say that perhaps -- I'll put this out there for you -- that one consistent theme is that this is a divided country, this is a county that's divided by gender, divided by geography, also divided by race, and whoever ends up in the White House is going to have quite the challenge to lead because there's not one consensus and one mandate about where people want this country to go?

SESNO: Well, I certainly agree with the notion that there's not a mandate, this isn't -- but I don't -- I'm not sure I like the term "divided," Daryn. It may be overstating things. It may be "ambivalent" is a better term. I mean, we had some remarkably unique issues confronting us this time. There was the Bill Clinton overhang, the legacy of impeachment. It didn't come up much on the campaign trail, but the character and integrity issue clearly did.

We have this very unusual situation with Ralph Nader. And in certain places, if Ralph Nader hadn't been on the ballot, Al Gore would have done much -- you know, much better or arguably better enough, say, in Florida where Nader got 96,000 votes and there are only 1,800 separating the two candidates, and Al Gore, arguably, would have won there.

We had the peace and prosperity overhang. A lot of people said, you know what? There's no compelling national issue for me to go to the poll or to clearly decide between these two voters. And you had Al Gore himself who, you know, had issues with his own likability and personality by the Democrats' own admission, or on the George W. Bush side where there were real questions, again, by the Republicans' own admission, as to his readiness for office.

So there were some very unique situations here.

KAGAN: Frank Sesno pointing out some very interesting discrepancies from this race.

HEMMER: And just to follow up his first answer, there's a line in the "New York Times" this morning that says neither man in this race was able to close the deal with the American people. It's quite possible that's the legacy from this election. We shall see.

KAGAN: There will be plenty to study for historians ahead, no doubt about that.



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