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Gore retracts concession as Florida eyes recount in presidential race

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MESSAGE BOARD
Election 2000
 

(CNN) -- The presidency of the United States hinged on fewer than 1,000 votes in Florida early today, as what may be the closest presidential race in American history kept either Texas Gov. George W. Bush or Vice President Al Gore from declaring victory.

The latest CNN vote count gave Bush a lead of only 926 votes in Florida, a margin well within the one-half of one percent that triggers a recount under state law. Gore, meanwhile, led the popular vote nationwide by slightly more than 60,000 votes out of 94 million-plus ballots cast.

Shortly after 2 a.m. EST, CNN and other news organizations projected Bush the winner in Florida, with its 25 electoral votes taking his total to 271 -- one more than the 270 needed to win a majority in the Electoral College. But questions about the Florida count prompted the networks to place Florida back in the "too close to call" category, leaving Bush with only 246.


In this story:

The last days

Third parties seek to influence future races



"We hope and believe we have elected the next president of the United States," Bush campaign chairman Don Evans said about 4:30 a.m. EST. "The latest 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 all is said and done, we will prevail."

Gore was projected to have 249 electoral votes, with at least two states -- Oregon and Wisconsin -- remaining too close to call this morning.

CNN's count of the race showed Bush had received 2,905,033 votes in Florida; Gore had 2,904,107.

"I would caution both candidates not to make any definitive statements," Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth said in a statement issued early today.

CNN's Jeff Greenfield reported that Butterworth, a Democrat who served as Gore's campaign chairman in Florida, called Gore and told him to put off a concession speech until a recount could be performed.

Butterworth promised the recount would be done "in a relatively short period of time," but said county election supervisors should give their poll workers a chance to rest first.

"We owe this to the people of this country, because we're talkng about one vote for every five or six precincts in this state," he said.

With thousands of Gore supporters standing in the predawn rain in Nashville, Tennessee, campaign chairman William Daley announced Gore would not yet concede the race.

"Without being certain of the results in Florida, we simply cannot be certain of the results of the national election," Daley announced shortly after 4 a.m. EST.

Gore already had called Bush to congratulate him on his win, when the tightening numbers in Florida prompted him to call again and retract those comments. Daley said Gore and his running mate, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, were prepared to concede and support Bush if he is officially elected.

"But this race is simply too close to call, and until the recount is concluded and the results in Florida become official, our campaign continues," Daley said as the crowd roared its approval.

Daley said about 5,000 votes remained to be counted in Florida in addition to a recount.

"I've been in politics a long time, and I don't think there's ever been a night like this one," Daley said.

Meanwhile, in the nationwide popular vote, with 97 percent of precincts in, Gore led Bush by 49 to 48 percent. Gore had collected 47,744,437 votes across the country, while Bush had 47,480,638, according to CNN's count.

Gore amd Bush
 

The white-knuckle race appeared to lean Gore's way early in the night, as news organizations projected Gore the winner in Florida based on exit polling. Along with Gore victories in Pennsylvania, Michigan, New York and Illinois, that gave the vice president a large lead in the Electoral College count.

But Bush took a lead in early returns in Florida, and the news organizations that had called Florida for Gore -- including CNN -- quickly switched it back to a toss-up.

Watching the returns with his wife and parents, former President George Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush, the GOP nominee said he was not prepared to concede major Eastern states that exit polls indicated were leaning to Gore -- including Pennsylvania and Florida. Both states are led by Republican governors, including the nominee's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

"The networks are calling this thing awfully early, but the people counting the votes have a different perspective," the Texas governor said.

By 1 a.m., it became clear that both men needed to win Florida to claim the White House -- and about two-thirds of the votes remaining to be counted in Florida came from the Democratic bastions of south Florida, in the Miami and Fort Lauderdale areas. Late into the night, Gore's deputy campaign manager Mark Fabiani still held out hope of a victory.

"Bush is slightly ahead now, but that's because the Democratic strongholds in the state -- Dade County and Broward County -- have not had their votes counted yet," Fabiani said.

Both campaigns had scrambled to turn out the vote, not only in major states in the Electoral College, but in smaller states where the races were expected to be tight.

Heavy turnout in St. Louis, a Democratic stronghold in the battleground state of Missouri, prompted a judge to extend polling there by three hours. He was overruled later by a state appellate judge after Republicans appealed the decision.

An official in the New York borough of Manhattan said he was calling in more volunteers to get help because turnout was greater than he had expected. In the Atlanta, Georgia, area, voters waited as long as three hours to enter voting booths. In the Chicago suburb of Lake Forest, Illinois, poll workers reported the turnout was "much better than anything we've seen before."

Gore
Vice President Gore steps out of the voting booth near his home in Tennessee  

Gore's campaign deployed the Rev. Jesse Jackson in Pennsylvania on Tuesday afternoon and called on Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy's organization to send volunteers to New Hampshire for get-out-the-vote efforts there.

"I believe we have the best ground troops in America knocking on doors, getting on phones for Gore," Donna Brazile, the vice president's campaign manager, said Tuesday evening.

The Gore campaign estimated that it put about 50,000 volunteers into the field during the campaign, sent 50 million pieces of direct mail, made 40 million phone calls and sent 30 million pieces of e-mail by the time polls closed Tuesday.

Bush strategist Karl Rove said Monday the Bush campaign sent as many as 243,000 volunteers onto the streets in 28 battleground states, making up to 70 million phone calls and sending out 110 million pieces of mail.

The last days

Gore wound up a 30-hour final blitz of campaign stops in Florida before flying home to Tennessee early Tuesday. Al and Tipper Gore voted at a school in Elmwood, near their home in Carthage, before the vice president gave fifth-grade students a civics lesson on the importance of voting.

"I voted for my husband Al Gore and it was a thrill," Tipper Gore said after casting her ballot. "It was wonderful. It was very exciting."

Bush voted Tuesday in Austin, telling reporters, "We had a long day yesterday, but I feel great."

"I've been making some phone calls this morning," he said. "I've called my parents first thing when I woke up to assure them that I'm feeling pretty good about it ... that we've done all we can do, and it's up to the people of the country to make up their mind."

Liebermans
Joe Lieberman and his wife Hadassah arrive to vote at Edgewood School in New Haven, Connecticut  

Both candidates spent their last day of campaigning hammering home themes they stressed throughout the past year and a half on the stump.

Gore cast the election as a referendum on the prosperity of the past few years, warning that Bush's plans for a $1 trillion-plus tax cut would undercut the foundations of the economic boom. He criticized Bush's proposal to partially privatize Social Security, saying Bush has promised about $1 trillion from the Social Security Trust Fund to two groups of people: younger workers, who would be allowed to privately invest a share of their payroll taxes; and older Americans who need that money to pay current benefits.

Gore promised to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare, the federal medical insurance program for seniors --- and he has tried to cast doubts upon the Texas governor's ability to handle the complexities of the job.

Gore and President Clinton credited their administration's eight-year federal budgeting strategy for turning the recession of the early 1990s into an atmosphere that has brought about the balanced budget agreement, some 22 million new jobs, and low rates of unemployment in most regions of the country.

Bush -- whose father was ousted by Clinton in 1992 in the wake of the last national economic downturn -- argues that though the economy has shown improvement since his father left office, the reasons have little -- to nothing at all -- to do with Gore or Clinton.

But with voters unlikely to want broad economic reforms, Bush chose instead to focus on other sensitive areas for overhaul. Those include the public education system; the armed forces; the 35-year-old Medicare health insurance program; and Social Security.

Bush also called for a new era of "responsibility" in Washington and promised to ease the partisan rancor that has characterized much of American politics in recent years, citing his ability to work with legislators on both sides of the aisle in Texas.

And he included a call to restore honor to the White House in nearly every campaign appearance -- a not-so-subtle reference to Clinton's affair with a former White House intern, which led to his 1998 impeachment and acquittal by the Senate the following year.

Third parties seek to influence future races

While Bush and Gore sprinted around the country hoping to secure the winning margin in the upper Midwest and along the East Coast, minor-party candidates Nader and Pat Buchanan vowed their movements would remain active into the next election cycle.

Buchanan and Nader
Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan and Green Party candidate Ralph Nader  

Gore had to spend more time and money in some states that normally would be considered reliably Democratic because of Green Party candidate Nader's challenge from his left. Democrats worried a strong turnout for Nader -- he ended up with about 2.4 million votes, or 3 percent nationwide -- could take votes from Gore and throw the election to Bush.

The Greens failed to get the 5 percent of the popular vote they need to qualify for federal matching funds in the 2004 presidential race, but Nader declared the night a win for the party anyway.

"We're coming out of this election with millions of votes -- with the third-largest political party in America, replacing the Reform Party," he said. "We become a viable watchdog party on the two parties, telling them they need to shape up or they're going to lose votes in the future."

Meanwhile, Reform Party candidate Buchanan -- who secured $12.6 million in federal matching funds after the party's raucous convention in August -- said Monday he would be around to serve as a conservative watchdog over a Republican administration.

Buchanan earned less than 1 percent of the popular vote after inheriting the mantle of Ross Perot, the Texas billionaire who won 8 percent in 1996 and 19 percent in 1992.

Buchanan had challenged Bush's father in the 1992 Republican primaries. Asked about the likelihood of a Bush win, Buchanan said, "If there is another Bush in the White House, there will be another Buchanan watchdog right outside the White House."



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