Bush declares victory


Associated Press

Florida’s secretary of state certified George W. Bush the winner over Al Gore on Sunday night in the state’s near-deadlocked presidential vote — but court contests left in doubt which man will be the ultimate victor and 43rd president of the United States.

Bush said he had won the White House and asked Gore to reconsider his challenges.

"Now that the votes are counted, it is time for the votes to count," Gov. Bush said from the state capitol in Austin, Texas, after Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, a campaign supporter, announced that he had captured Florida by an infinitesimal 537-vote margin.

Bush announced that running mate Dick Cheney will direct his transition operations in Washington, and that former Secretary of Transportation Andrew Card will be his White House chief of staff.

The Texas governor said the election was close but he won and will begin "preparing to serve" as president.

While Bush asked Cheney "to work with President Clinton’s administration to open a transition office in Washington," the government agency that would make the arrangements was not ready to do so.

Beth Newburger of the General Services Administration said "there is not an apparent winner and the outcome is unclear" so the agency cannot authorize transition funds and offices for Bush.

In his address, Bush delivered a sort of miniature State of the Union list of proposals and promised that he will "work to unite our great land." It was an effort by the Republican nominee to pre-empt Gore by persuading Americans that the election is over with and that the outcome announced in Florida should be the last word.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, already had declared that it won’t be, saying that he and Gore had no choice but to challenge the Florida certification.

"The election was close," Bush said, "but tonight, after a count, a recount and yet another manual recount, Secretary Cheney and I are honored to have won the state of Florida, which gives us the needed electoral votes to win the election."

Moments after Republican Harris declared Bush the winner of Florida’s 25 electoral votes at a ceremony in Tallahassee, Lieberman said she had certified "an incomplete and inaccurate count" and he and Gore would challenge it.

But Bush, in a nationally televised address from Austin, said "I respectfully ask" that Gore reconsider further contesting the hairline Florida count. Sen. Trent Lott, the Republican majority leader, said Gore should concede.

But the vice president was preparing to tell Americans toMday that he intends to keep fighting and why.

Bush said he respected Gore’s determination to fight for Florida’s 25 electors, which would mean victory for either man, before the vote was certified. Now, he said, "if the vice president chooses to go forward, he is filing a contest to the outcome of the election, and that is not the best route for America."

If the certification of a 537-vote Bush margin stands, the Texas governor would win 271 electoral college votes — one more than necessary for victory — to 267 for Gore.

Harris said Bush had 2,912,790 votes and Gore had 2,912,253. That gave Bush the 537-vote lead out of 6 million cast, although Harris rejected partial returns from Palm Beach County. An unofficial Associated Press tally including recounted Palm Beach County votes showed Bush ahead by 357.

The secretary of state’s formal declaration, which set off GOP cheers outside the Florida capital and at the state capitol in Austin, Texas:

"Accordingly, on behalf of the state elections canvassing commission and in accordance with the laws of the state of Florida, I hereby declare Governor George W. Bush the winner of Florida’s 25 electoral votes."

Lieberman said, "The integrity of our self-government" could be cast into doubt without Democratic steps to get the most complete and accurate count possible. Gore’s lawyers were to file their challenge in the courts of Leon County, site of the state capitol at Tallahassee, this morning.

James Baker, the former secretary of state speaking for Bush, said that count already has been delivered, repeatedly.

He said Bush "won this election" under the rules set by law before Election Day, Nov. 7 — and under rules changed after the election. Baker denounced Gore’s lawyers for what he called an extraordinary resort to the courts — although Bush has his own set of lawsuits, including the appeal the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears oral arguments on Friday.

"At some point there must be closure," Baker said. "At some point the law must prevail and the lawyers must go home."

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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