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Presidential winner still unknown as key Florida votes recounted

Updated:
(CNN) -- The identity of the next president of the United States will be determined by a vote recount in Florida, which must be completed by the close of business Thursday, state election officials said.

Tuesday's national vote count is so close, as is the number of electoral votes won by GOP candidate George W. Bush and Democrat Vice President Al Gore, that the presidential election is too close to call.

It is also possible that one candidate could win the Electoral College vote and the other win the popular vote, which hasn't happened in a hundred years.

Nationwide, Gore pulled ahead by 267,557 votes of more than 95 million cast, with all but 3 percent of precincts reporting.

Without a decision in Florida -- which commands 25 electoral votes -- Gore led the projected tally in the Electoral College by 14 votes, 260 to 246.

The only other state yet to have a projected winner is Oregon, which holds seven electoral votes. A candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win the presidency.

If Bush takes Florida, the state's electoral votes would push his number to 271 -- one more than necessary to win the presidency. If Gore wins Florida, he'll have 285 -- but if he doesn't win Florida, and even if he takes Oregon, he'll fall short of 270 by three electoral votes.

Gore had been prepared to give a concession speech to thousands of supporters outside his headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee, about 3 a.m. He already had phoned Bush, who was watching the returns in Austin, the Texas capital, to congratulate him on his win.

But at the urging of his Florida campaign staff, the vice president retracted his concession. Gore campaign chief Bill Daley told supporters standing in the rain in Nashville that with a recount pending, "our campaign continues."

"Without being certain of the results in Florida, we simply cannot be certain of the results of the national election," Daley said.

Sources told CNN correspondent Jonathan Karl that Gore was on his way to make the concession speech and was in fact two blocks from the site when he decided against making the concession.

Bush campaign chairman Don Evans said Bush was confident he would win a recount.

"We hope and believe we have elected the next president of the United States," 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 held a slight lead in the popular vote nationwide, with more than 95 million ballots cast.

Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth -- who served as Gore's campaign chairman in Florida -- said a recount could be completed by this afternoon.

"We're talking about literally a couple hundred votes," Butterworth said. "I think we owe it to the country, and we owe it to the world, to make sure that Florida gives an accurate counting as quickly as possible, and we hope it would be later today."

Florida vote defies expectations
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.

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

Bush -- watching the returns with his wife Laura and parents, former President George Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush -- said he was not prepared to concede major Eastern states that exit polls indicated were leaning to Gore, including Florida.

"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.

During the recount, which will be done by computer, representatives of the Bush and Gore campaigns would be allowed to be present, Butterworth said. So would representatives of two minor-party candidates, Green Party nominee Ralph Nader and Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan.

We're coming out of this election with millions of votes -- with the third-largest political party in America, replacing the Reform Party," Nader told CNN. "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, Buchanan -- who secured $12.6 million in federal matching funds after the Reform Party's raucous convention in August -- said 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. That showing is likely to cost Reform its matching funds in the next presidential race, but Buchanan said he would continue to push his conservative message.

"I am with these causes now and up until the time the Lord himself calls me home," Buchanan told about 100 cheering people at a hotel near Washington. "This cause is not going to die. This cause is going to move forward."


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