Bush, Gore locked in close contest for president

Tuesday, November 7th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Texas Gov. George W. Bush fought Al Gore in an agonizingly close presidential election Tuesday that came down to one state and a few thousand votes. Gore called Bush with congratulations, then called back to say he wasn't ready to concede.

``Unbelievable,'' sighed Bush adviser Karen Hughes, after fielding the second call from Gore.

It was an incredible political spectacle by any standard. ``There's never been a night like this one,'' said Gore campaign chairman William Daley, after his boss retired for the night _ unsure whether he had won or not.

``Until the results in Florida become official our campaign continues,'' Daley said to cheering supporters in Nashville.

Florida had been the epicenter of the campaign and Tuesday night was beyond chaotic. At midevening news organizations said Gore was the winner, but they backtracked as more votes were counted and Bush eased ahead.

Republicans maintained precarious control of Congress as the GOP bid to hold the House, Senate and presidency for the first time in 46 years.

In New York, Hillary Rodham Clinton made history, becoming the nation's first first lady to win a Senate seat. ``You taught me, you tested me,'' Mrs. Clinton told her adopted New Yorkers. ``I am determined to make a difference for all of you.''

TV networks projected Bush the winner, igniting GOP celebrations in Austin. An hour later, the conclusive vote they cited in Florida had tightened. The Associated Press did not declare a presidential winner, citing the ongoing tally.

Supporters in Nashville chanted, ``Recount!'' and indeed state law made it certain that whoever wins Florida, officials will review the vote.

In the most dramatic election in decades, it all came down to Florida. AP's analysis showed the narrowest of margins with final votes still being tallied in several Democratic counties. The networks projected a Bush victory that would put him over the top and that sparked gloom in the Gore camp in Nashville and triumphant cheers in Texas.

The election offers voters a choice of four more years of Democratic rule or a Republican ``fresh start.''

A Bush victory would give America its second father-son presidents after John Adams (1797-01) and John Quincy Adams (1825-29).

Florida would give Bush 271 votes in the Electoral College, one over the majority needed to claim the presidency. Just thousands of votes separated the two candidates in Florida out of almost 6 million cast, and the margin was sure to require a recount.

Four states were still to close to call: Florida, Oregon, Wisconsin and New Mexico. Gore won Iowa, a Democratic bastion that nearly went to Bush.

With Florida officials continuing their tally, the New York Times said Bush had won and congratulated him on ``the amazing political feat of laping to the White House after only six years in public office.''

Republicans retained control of the Senate _ if narrowly _ and looked likely to keep a small majority in the House as well. Bush or Gore, the next president will be submitting his first-year agenda to a deeply divided Congress.

Gore won big battlegrounds in Pennsylvania, Michigan and California while Bush claimed Texas, Ohio and a string of smaller states, including Gore's Tennessee and Bill Clinton's Arkansas.

Green Party candidate Ralph Nader had just 3 percent of the national vote, but did well enough in to potentially tip several states to Bush.

Ever confident, Bush went out for dinner and awaited final returns. When the news media called Florida for Gore in midevening, Bush said, ``I don't believe some of these states that they called, like Florida.'' Regarding the vice president, Bush said, ``I've run against a formidable opponent.''

Gore, awaiting returns in Nashville, wasn't heard from until his calls to Bush.

Voters settled a full roster of propositions on the first general election day of the 21st Century. Residents of Colorado and Oregon, shaken by school shooting rampages, cracked down on gun show patrons and sweeping private school voucher proposals were defeated in California and Michigan.

Democrats needed to pick up eight seats in the Senate to wrest control _ an uphill task they could not attain.

The presidential race _ among the closest in a generation _ foretold the end to Bill Clinton's turbulent eight years in office.

The math was excruciating for both campaigns _ both candidates were within reach of an electoral majority, and agonizing defeat. By 4 a.m. EST, Bush had won 29 states for 246 electoral votes of the needed 270. Gore had won 17 states plus the District of Columbia for 243. Florida offered a tantalizing 25 votes to its winner.