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Bush, Gore Race Could Be Close

Updated:
Bush returns to Austin.


WASHINGTON (AP) — America was electing a president Tuesday in what bid to be the closest election in 40 years, choosing between Republican George W. Bush's promise to be a ``uniter not a divider'' and Democrat Al Gore's claim that he alone has the experience to ``fight for you and win.'' Voters also were choosing a new Congress.

Exhausted by the effort, the candidates — Bush, the governor of Texas and son of a president, and Gore, the vice president, for eight years a presidential understudy — surrendered their fate to the voters and made ready to join millions of their fellow citizens at the polls.

Bush was casting his ballot in Austin, Texas, and making calls to West Coast radio stations to urge voters to turn out. He also was calling voters in Michigan, Oregon, Florida, Iowa and Wisconsin

After some pre-dawn campaigning in Florida, Gore was voting in Carthage, Tenn.

The earliest results came in moments after midnight Tuesday from two New Hampshire towns. In Dixville Notch, the result was Bush, 21, Gore 5, Ralph Nader 1. In nearby Hart's Location, it was Bush 17, and Gore 13, with one vote for a write-in candidate.

Before that Election Day ritual, the candidates barnstormed the country one last time.

Bush hit four states — Tennessee, Wisconsin, Iowa and Arkansas — that voted for President Clinton and Gore in 1992 and 1996, but which polls suggest could go Republican. ``My spirits are high. I feel great,'' he told an audience after returning to Austin just after midnight.

For his part, Gore engaged in marathon campaigning through crucial Iowa, Missouri, Michigan and Florida, where he said the star-studded crowd of tens thousands that greeted him in Miami's fashionable South Beach left him with ``no doubt whatsoever'' of a win there.

``Florida is the place where the future is being born,'' Gore said.

Behind them was the most expensive election in history — $3 billion on presidential and congressional races, about $30 for every vote cast — but one that failed to stir much excitement.

In addition to replacing Clinton, the people were electing all 435 members of the House, 34 senators and 11 governors, filling their state legislatures and settling 204 ballot issues in 42 states, ranging from legalizing marijuana in Alaska to fluoridating the water in San Antonio, Texas.

Despite millions of automated phone calls and waves of television advertising, analysts predicted that fewer than half the adult population would vote, about the same as the 96 million who cast ballots in 1996.

With peace and prosperity both at hand and not big issues, the fight was chiefly over how to divide the spoils: in the big tax cuts the Texas governor proposes or in shoring up Medicare, Social Security and education, as the vice president favors.

Bush portrayed himself as more trustworthy and capable of ending bickering in Washington — ``a uniter.'' Gore said his two decades in government give him the experience to prevail in taking on the special interests.

``You need someone who will fight for you and win and has the experience to do so,'' he argued.

Bush led in most national polls and enjoyed a potentially decisive enthusiasm edge among likely voters. But Gore held fragile leads in many of the swing states that may decide the election.

An unusually large number of states were in the tossup camp — Florida, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin and New Mexico among them. Even Gore's Tennessee and Clinton's Arkansas were close calls.

Bush was safe in Texas, where he has been a popular two-term governor, and had a lock on most of the South.

Gore's task was complicated by ``Clinton fatigue'' — a weariness of the sex scandal that led to an impeachment ordeal — and by the base-eroding threat posed by the insurgent Nader, who argued both major parties are captives of the same corporate money. If Nader can win 5 percent of the national vote, his Green Party would be assured of federal financing in 2004.

The election's apparent closeness raised the remote possibility of a Bush victory in the popular vote but a Gore edge where it counts in the Electoral College, where each state has as many votes as it has seats in Congress. Such outcomes have occurred three times in U.S. history, most recently in 1888.

The battle for Congress after six years of Republican dominance was just as murky.

Democrats hoped to regain control of the Senate, where the GOP holds sway, 54-46, and the House, where Republicans hold a 222-209 majority, with two independents and two vacancies.

And a Senate tie was possible, with the new vice president — either Republican Dick Cheney or Democrat Joseph Lieberman — casting the vote to decide which party controls. Or Sen. Lieberman, still on Connecticut's ballot for re-election, could win the vice presidency, forcing him to resign from the Senate and possibly throw the chamber to the GOP.

For the first time in history, a president's wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, sought election to the Senate. She faced Republican Rep. Rick Lazio in New York, nominated when prostate cancer caused New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to abandon plans to run.

In five states, women were major-party candidates for governor, including Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, battling her Republican opponent while also battling breast cancer.

In Missouri, Senate Democratic candidate Mel Carnahan remained on the ballot despite the Oct. 16 plane crash that killed him. Carnahan's successor as governor, Roger Wilson, promised to appoint Carnahan's widow to the seat if Republican incumbent John Ashcroft loses.


The Gore ticket.
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