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Heading into Election Night, just about everybody knew the race between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore would be close. Opinion polls had given Texas Governor Bush a slight lead. But almost as many people were saying they'd go for Vice President Gore.
As in most other elections, the action in this race really began at 7 p.m. Eastern time, when the polls closed in most East Coast states. People were paying especially close attention to Florida, where Bush's brother, Jeb, is governor, but which seemed to be leaning toward Gore in the election.
Georgia, Virginia, South Carolina and Indiana were quickly called for Gov. Bush, but Vermont and Florida ended up in the Gore column.
8pm: Gore wins Florida
"Al Gore wins the state of Florida and its 25 electoral votes," announced Peter Jennings of ABC News. "It gives him the first big-state momentum of the evening. This is the biggest state where the race has been close and the fourth biggest electoral prize."
Electoral votes are actually more important than the votes cast by individual voters. No matter how the popular vote turns out, it's the candidate who gets at least 270 electoral votes who becomes the next president.
But something strange started to happen a few hours later. As results for more states came in, many people questioned the call on Florida -- among them Gov. Bush.
"The networks called this thing awfully early," Bush said as he watched returns from the governor's mansion in Austin, "but the people actually counting the voters are coming up with a different perspective. So we're pretty darn upbeat about things."
At 10 p.m., it turned out Bush was right.
"This party just got wilder."
"Bulletin: Florida pulled back into the undecided column," CBS's Dan Rather said. "Computer and data problem. One of the CBS election night headlines of the hour. This knockdown, drag-out battle drags on into the night, and turn the lights down, this party just got wilder."
By midnight, it seemed both candidates needed an electoral shot in the arm. Both candidates were near 245, and both needed Florida to win.
Die-hard fans in Austin, Texas (Bush), and Nashville, Tennessee (Gore), stood outside in the rain, waiting for the final results.
Shortly after 2 a.m., it looked like there was finally a breakthrough. The cable Fox News Channel, followed by NBC and CNN, reported that enough votes in Florida were tallied to declare a Bush win. Other networks, winded by the long wait for a verdict, followed suit.
2 in the morning: Bush victory
George W. Bush was declared the 43rd President of the United States.
"NBC projects George Bush," Tom Brokaw reported. "It's been a night of first giving it to Al Gore, and then taking it away on the part of the networks."
Gore called Bush to congratulate him. Minutes later, Bush had his victory speech in hand; Gore was in a car on the way to conceding defeat.
Usually, this is where the story would end. There would be speeches, fireworks, a lot of happy and sad supporters. But not tonight.
Across the country and the world, people stayed up into the early hours of the morning, waiting for a result. The speeches never came. And the vote tallies in Florida, still not over, placed the candidates within tens of thousands of votes of each other. Then thousands. Then hundreds. Bush's lead was shrinking.
An hour later, Bush's phone rang. It was Al Gore, calling to say things had changed and he would not admit defeat. The networks' red-faced reporters put Florida back into the undecided column. And the crowds in Nashville and Austin continued to wait for word from their candidates.
4 in the morning: the unthinkable
Just after 4 a.m., Gore campaign chairman William Daley was the first to speak.
"Without being certain of the results in Florida, we simply cannot be certain of the results of this national election," Daley told Gore supporters in Nashville. "Let me add that Vice President Gore and Senator Lieberman are fully prepared to concede and support Governor Bush if and when there is an officially elected president. 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."
Bush campaign manager Don Evans spoke in Austin minutes later.
"Governor Bush and Secretary Cheney asked me to thank you for all your terrific support and hard work, Evans said. "We hope and believe we have elected the next president of the United States. The last count, the latest vote count in the state of Florida shows Governor Bush winning that state by more than 1,200 votes. They're still counting, and I'm confident when all is said and done, we will prevail."
Too close to call
When Florida's count was finally finished, Gore and Bush each had garnered 49 percent of the vote. Out of more than 6 million votes cast in Florida, Bush was ahead by less than 2,000 votes.
The close vote triggered an automatic recount. Florida law requires a recount whenever the difference between the winning and second-place candidate is less than one-half of one percent. Shortly after 5 a.m., Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth said the recount would begin in a few hours and could be completed as early as 5 p.m. Thursday.
-Posted Nov. 9, 2000