AUSTIN, Texas (AP) â€” George W. Bush's campaign remains outwardly confident that he has won the presidency, despite Florida poll results that show a thin enough margin between him and Democrat Al Gore to trigger a recount there and leave the race for the White House in limbo.
``We hope and believe we have elected the next president of the United States,'' Bush's campaign chairman, Don Evans, told thousands of supporters who had waited in chilly rain while Bush remained huddled with advisers in the governor's mansion. ``I'm confident that when it's all said and done we will prevail ... We look forward to a great celebration.''
That was the closest the campaign could come to declaring victory over a rival who had called to concede until Florida election officials early Wednesday cautioned that the margin in that key state had dwindled to a few hundred votes and would trigger a recount. Gore's own aides believed that he could not win without Florida's 25 votes. But minutes before he was to deliver a concession speech to supporters in Nashville, Tenn., Gore called Bush back and recanted.
``Our campaign goes on,'' said the vice president's campaign manager, Bill Daley.
In truth, both camps had the sense that Bush had won the electoral vote, albeit narrowly.
Throughout the rollercoaster evening, Bush never publicly wavered on that point, even after exit polls gave Florida's 25 electoral votes to Gore.
Bush later summoned reporters to the library of the governor's mansion to flatly dismiss the predictions.
``I'm upbeat. I don't believe some of these states that they've called, like Florida,'' Bush said. Minutes later, news outlets retracted that prediction and Bush appeared to surge there.
A narrow win would be a political exoneration for Bush's family, after his father was denied a second term in 1992 by Bill Clinton. It also would be a personal vindication for the Texas governor, who has long insisted that his rivals underestimate him at their own peril.
Exit polls showed that his two-year, $160 million campaign resonated with Bush's routine pledge to uphold the dignity of the presidency â€” and his regular mocking of Gore's exaggerations.
The exit polls showed Bush won among voters who cared most about a candidate's honesty. But Bush also sparred with the honesty issue when he was caught last week withholding information about a 1976 drunk driving arrest. The Texas governor said he had not been specific earlier about the incident because he wanted to keep the information from his 18-year-old daughters.
Exit polls showed that about one in four voters said that revelation was very or somewhat important to their choice.
The voters were interviewed as they left the polls by Voter News Service, a consortium of The Associated Press and the television networks.