|A NIGHT TO REMEMBER|
November 8, 2000
Terence Smith reports on the bad calls, electoral number crunching, and overall media coverage of one of America's most turbulent elections.
The NewsHour Media Unit is funded by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts.
SMITH: From rainy rallies in Austin and Nashville to television studios
in New York, it was an election night like no other.
TOM BROKAW, NBC: Stay with us. We are about to take you on an exciting and bumpy ride.
PETER JENNINGS, ABC: There's every chance, as you know, that in many ways that is going to be an unusually interesting election night.
DAN RATHER, CBS: So, tonight if the race is as close as advertised, the three most important things are turnout, turnout, and turnout.
TERENCE SMITH: It began in a straight-ahead fashion. Indiana and Kentucky, where the polls closed early declared for Bush.
TOM BROKAW: All eyes on Florida at this hour, Tim.
TERENCE SMITH: But the drama heightened sharply around 8:00 Eastern Time, when ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and Fox all called the state of Florida for Vice President Al Gore. The Associated Press and PBS followed suit later.
PETER JENNINGS: We are now able to make a projection in the state of Florida. ABC News projects that Al Gore wins the state of Florida and its 25 electoral votes. Give him the first big state momentum of the evening. This is the biggest state where the race has been close; the fourth biggest electoral prize.
TERENCE SMITH: Soon after George W. Bush abruptly changed his plans to watch returns from an Austin hotel and return to the governor's mansion, but he was a long way from giving up.
BILL WHITAKER, CBS: George W. Bush all evening has been disputing the early calls on Florida and Pennsylvania.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: The networks called this thing awfully early, but the people counting the votes are actually coming up with a little different perspective, and so I'm pretty darn upbeat about things.
|A fleeting Florida victory|
TERENCE SMITH: Gore's Florida win was short-lived. By 10:00 as more votes were counted, CBS and others retracted the call.
DAN RATHER: Bulletin: Florida pulled back into the undecided column. Computer and data problem. One of the CBS News election night headlines of the hour. This knock-down-drag-out battle drags on into the night, and turn the lights down, the party just got wilder.
TERENCE SMITH: In Austin Bush supporters were glued to television screens. Bush aides were ecstatic.
GOV. MARC RACICOT, Montana: We are still very hopeful. We believe that Florida will fall in the Bush column and that we have every reason to believe that Arizona, Colorado, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Oregon will be there as well, and of course Alaska, which makes the next president of the united states, George Bush.
TERENCE SMITH: Meanwhile, representatives from the Gore campaign put the best possible spin on the bad news.
ALEXIS HERMAN, Sec. of Labor: Well, the mood here is very optimistic. We are still waiting for the Florida vote count to be put back in the Vice President's column. We know that the boxes that are outstanding still in Florida are Democratic strong holds, so we feel pretty confident that we'll win Florida and win this election.
TERENCE SMITH: For several hours the vote seesawed -- Bush winning Arizona, Colorado and Alaska; Gore winning Wisconsin, Oregon, and Iowa. But in Florida the vote was unbelievably tight, as the NewsHour reported in its election night special at 1:24 A.M. Eastern Time.
JIM LEHRER: And speaking of close election, let's take a look now at the popular vote between Bush and Gore. It is just-- there are the numbers.
TERENCE SMITH: Close to 2:00 in the morning, the crowd in Nashville was subdued; in Austin, concerned.
DAN RATHER: It all gets down to Florida.
TERENCE SMITH: Then suddenly another break for George Bush. Around 2:20 A.M., the networks began putting Florida back into his column and adding up the numbers.
TOM BROKAW: Doris, Doris, Doris...
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Uh-oh, something has happened.
TOM BROKAW: George Bush is the president elect of the United States, he won the state of Florida, according to our projections -- 25 electoral votes, NBC News projects that George Bush, it has been a night of first giving it to Al Gore then taking it away on the part of the networks. George Walker Bush, the new President of the United States.
TERENCE SMITH: On ABC Anchor Peter Jennings began writing Al Gore's political obituary.
PETER JENNINGS: I think one very good point, Michael Beschloss, you've had something interesting to say on every subject. We are very grateful for that, but let's talk a little about Al Gore -- a life in politics unlike many, if any, modern American politicians. He almost instantly may become a tragic figure.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOLOUS, ABC: That's right, and about as well-prepared for the presidency as any man ever.
TERENCE SMITH: But the numbers in Florida narrowed again just as Vice President Gore was headed to the War Memorial in Nashville to concede. But that never happened. Instead, their followed a bizarre series of events and phone calls between the two candidates. Bush Spokesperson Karen Hughes described them this afternoon.
KAREN HUGHES: There were two phone calls. The first one the Vice President made to concede the election and congratulate Governor Bush. The Governor told him he was a good man, and that he had a respect... that he respected him. The Governor also told him that he understood that this was difficult for him and for his family, and that he gave his best to Tipper and to the Vice President's children. The second phone call was approximately an hour later. It was certainly a surprise that someone who had called to concede the election was calling back to retract the concession, and I think the Governor sought to clarify that that was in fact what was happening. I heard the conversation. He said, "let me make sure I understand, you are calling me back to retract your concession," or something to that effect? And he said, the last, the final outcome was "well, Mr. Vice President, you need to do what you have to do." That was pretty much the crux of it. It was a... it was a - an amazing, it was an amazing night. As you all know since you lived through it, I watched it this morning on television, some excerpts, and I thought maybe it had all been in a dream, then I realized I was awake the whole time.
TERENCE SMITH: In the wee hours of this morning, the networks reversed course and put Florida back in play. A few minutes after 4:00, Gore's campaign chairman spoke.
WILLIAM DALEY: Without being certain of the results in Florida, we simply cannot be certain of the results of this national election. (Applause) 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. And until the results... the recount is concluded and the results in Florida become official, our campaign continues.
TERENCE SMITH: Minutes later, Daley's counterpart in Austin, Bush campaign chairman Don Evans had this to say.
DON EVANS: Thank you all very much. Governor 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. ( Cheers and applause ) The latest count...the latest vote count in state of Florida shows Governor Bush winning the state by more than 1,200 votes. They are still counting, they're still counting, and I'm confident when it's all said and done, we will prevail.
TERENCE SMITH: That was Governor Bush's view today as he prescribed the roller coaster ride.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: It was an interesting night. Needless to say there was some consternation with Florida's governor during our family dinner when somebody jumped the proverbial gun, as we say, and so he is the person that really went through some, you know, obviously some interesting emotions. I was confident that, when it was all said and done that, Florida would be taken off of the declared state role and that cooler heads would prevail and the count would actually matter.
TERENCE SMITH: What did you tell the Vice President when he called the second time?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: I thought it was an interesting comment he made, and listened to what he had to say. I didn't have much to say.
TERENCE SMITH: Were you amazed .
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I was. I felt like I was fully prepared to go out and give a speech and thanking my supporters and he withdrew his earlier comments, and here we sit.
TERENCE SMITH: Late this afternoon, President Clinton returned to the White House from New York where he had celebrated his wife's election to the Senate. He said he had spoken with the Vice President by phone after the race had been declared too close to call.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: We had a great talk later. You know, when the situation was as it is now, and we were laughing. We... he was in a good humor. We talked about the unpredictability of life and how he had done all he could and he was pleased that he was ahead in the popular vote at the time. I don't know what the latest totals are, and we had a very good talk. And he congratulated Hillary and they had a nice little visit, but, I was just like you last night. I was a fascinated observer.
TERENCE SMITH: Election workers in Florida headed back to work to begin an official recount just after noon today.
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