The 2000 election between Texas Governor George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore has come down to a single state Florida and the vote count there is so close within an almost unbelievable margin of .1 percent that a recount has been automatically triggered under Florida State law.
Never before in U.S. history have the American people been left in such a state of limbo on the day following a presidential election. After nearly 100 million votes were cast and tabulated nationwide, officials still do not know which candidate has won the popular vote in Florida and therefore the Presidency of the United States. Out of the six million votes cast by Floridians, only a few hundred separate the two candidates, with absentee and overseas ballots yet to be counted.
Strangest Night in American Political History
After a surreal topsy-turvy night in which Florida’s critical 25 electoral votes were first projected to go to Gore, then later to Bush, then thrown back in the undecided column pending the outcome of a recount, the world stands waiting for the outcome of the U.S. Presidential election. It’s a state of political suspended animation the likes of which have never been seen in our 225-year history.
At just after 2:20 am EST, Bush was actually declared to have won the presidency by Fox, CNN, and other major news organizations. Nearly an hour went by, during which time pundits began reciting the laundry list of reasons why Gore had lost the election during a time of peace and record economic prosperity. (The list included his wooden personality, debate failures, lurch to the left at the Democratic Convention, failure to stay on message during the campaign, and President Clinton’s scandals and impeachment.)
But then, a short while after congratulating Bush, and just moments before taking the podium in Nashville to deliver his concession speech to his supporters, Gore was informed that the Florida race had tightened from an approximate 50,000-vote differential to less than 1,000. Instead of taking the stage himself, Gore sent his campaign chairman Bill Daley to declare that “…until the results become official in the State of Florida, our campaign continues!”
Soonafter, Bush’s campaign manager Don Evans took the stage outside the Governor’s Mansion in Austin, Texas, and addressed hundreds of stunned Bush supporters. “We hope and believe we have elected the next president of the United States,” he intoned. “…They’re still counting, but I’m confident, when they’re all said and done, we will prevail!” Thunderous applause was the response for Evans, as it had been in Nashville for Daley.
The Saga Continues
With the outcome hanging on a fraction of a percent of the vote in the Sunshine State, Florida’s attorney general Bob Butterworth confirmed that there will be a recount. “I think we owe it to the country and owe it to the world to make sure that Florida gives an accurate counting as quickly as possible, and we hope it will be later today.”
Meanwhile, no matter how the presidential race turns out, the Republicans will retain their majority in both houses of Congress, despite losing one House and two Senate seats.
Also, First Lady Hillary Clinton won her Senate bid, making history and ensuring that the Clinton political saga will continue indefinitely.
Fittingly, her husband Bill Clinton the most divisive president since Richard Nixon will leave as his legacy an American nation even more deeply divided than when he led it into its first impeachment crisis since Reconstruction. Based on the breathtakingly tight Congressional races throughout the land, and the near identical split of the popular and electoral votes for president, Americans seem to be split down the middle on all issues and all candidates, just as Mr. Clinton prepares to ride off into the sunset.
In what certainly was the most extensively polled election in history, none of the pollsters correctly measured the mood or inclination of the voters. This election turned out to be far closer than anyone predicted including John Zogby, who predicted the narrowest differential of two percentage points. Confounding all pundits except Zogby, Gore appears to have won the popular vote, but still needs Florida to put him over the top in the electoral college. Bush was widely expected to win the popular vote and have more difficulty amassing 270 votes in the electoral college.
This election is the closest in 40 years. Gore's lead of about 200,000 popular votes is reminiscent of Kennedy's slim 118,574 margin over Nixon in 1960. But by all accounts, Bush has better-than-even chances of carrying Florida and taking the White House. He does have a slight lead, and absentee and military ballots tend to go Republican but anything can happen in a recount. If Bush ultimately wins, it will be the first time since 1888 that the electoral and popular votes go to two different people.
Last night was many things exhilarating, devastating, terrifying, horrifying and easily more exciting than the best games of last month’s Subway Series. But all that is bound to change when the dust finally settles. No matter which presidential candidate wins the election, the deeply divided American people are sure to be treated to shrill argumentation and legislative gridlock for the foreseeable future at least until the Congressional mid-term elections in 2002.
The first U.S. presidential election of the new millennium was beyond comparison in many ways. But above all, it stands as a classic civics lesson for any American out there foolish enough to think that their vote doesn’t count.