By RON FOURNIER
Texas Gov. George W. Bush, son of a president and grandson of a senator, appears to have won the presidency in one of the nation’s closest elections ever, according to projections by major news organizations.
Bush crafted his apparently razor-thin victory by winning two big Sun Belt states – Texas by a landslide, Florida by a hair – and piling up a number of smaller western and southern states that have grown increasingly Republican in recent years.
Florida emerged as the pivotal and most controversial state. All the major TV networks declared Vice President Gore the winner there early in the evening, only to retract the projection later, citing problems with exit polls in several key areas. Florida’s eventual vote count was so close that a Democratic challenge or recount appears possible.
Ever confident, Bush went out for dinner and awaited final returns. “I don’t believe some of these states that they called, like Florida,” said the Texas governor. Regarding the vice president, Bush said, “I’ve run against a formidable opponent.”
The GOP sought to retain its fragile six-year hold on Congress and voters faced a full roster of propositions and state and local offices on the first general election day of the 21st Century. Democrats needed to pick up five seats in the House, eight in the Senate to guarantee control – an uphill task on both counts.
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.”
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.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said, “I’m used to counting the votes in the Senate and the House of Representatives, but I’m not used to counting votes in the electoral college.”
As the anxiety mounted, Bush changed his plans to watch the returns with a large group of family and friends at a hotel. He opted instead for the seclusion of the governor’s mansion.
It was no less tense in Democratic quarters.
“It will be late and there will be lots of surprises,” said Gore campaign chairman, William Daley.
No vote was overlooked. Party sources say Gore aides called for fresh troops for New Hampshire get out the vote operations. The Ted Kennedy campaign sent 250 or so volunteers – all that for four electoral votes.
Not that it mattered, but with votes tallied from 58 percent of the precincts, Bush had 30,944,072 votes and Gore had 30,329,011. Nader came in at 1,51,664 for 2 percent and Pat Buchanan barely registered.
Nader said he didn’t mind that his race caused electoral mischief. “You can’t spoil a system spoiled to the core,” Nader said.
Interviews as voters left their polling places by Voter News Service said that a candidate’s position on issues was more influential than his personal qualities, and about one in five voters didn’t make up their minds until the last week. Many of those tipped toward Gore.
In Senate races, former Virginia Gov. George Allen ousted Sen. Charles Robb from the Senate, diminishing Democratic hopes to regain control. Republicans also picked up a Democrat seat in Nevada, while Democrats picked up GOP seats in Florida, Delaware and Minnesota.
In Missouri, Republican Sen. John Ashcroft faced late Gov. Mel Carnahan. Carnahan’s widow, Jean, said she would accept Gov. Roger Wilson’s offer of a Senate appointment if her husband tops the ballot.
Rep. Jim Rogan fought to hold his southern California seat in the costliest House race in history. Rogan was a leader in the House impeachment effort. At late-evening, Democats and Republicans had each picked up a seat.
There were hopes the showdown would inspire higher turnout, reversing the trend of recent elections. At a West Little Rock polling site, the line snaked through a church gymnasium and out into the parking lot. In Reisterstown, Md., attorney Paul Beckman said, “I’d walk a mile to vote.”
The voting day poll indicated Bush fared well among those who cared most about world affairs and taxes. Voters who cared most about Medicare and prescription drugs, Social Security, health care and the economy tended to favor Gore. Both candidates were seen as good for schools, an issue that traditionally has favored Democrats.
Individual considerations had an impact: Voters who cared most about a candidate’s honesty favored Bush and those who wanted a president with experience mostly sided with Gore.
About one in four said reports that Bush had been arrested in 1976 for drunken driving was important to their vote. Nearly half of voters said Clinton “scandals” was an important reason for their choice.
Eleven gubernatorial contests were being decided today, along with legislatures that will wield wide influence in next year’s congressional redistricting. Democrats held their governorships in Delaware, New Hampshire, Indiana, New Hampshire and North Carolina – and scored an upset in West Virginia, where Gov. Cecil Underwood lost to Rep. Bob Wise.
But it was the race between the son of a former president and the son of a former senator that captured the attention of voters who had often ignored politics during recent years of relative peace and ongoing prosperity.
Bush, 54, just six years into his first political job, promised to end the Clinton-Gore “season of cynicism,” cut taxes, improve schools, build up the military and reshape Social Security. Benefiting from family connections and Texas-sized expectations, Bush raised a record-shattering $103 million as he aimed to settle a score as well as reach the political pinnacle: Clinton-Gore swept his father from office in 1993.
America has had father-and-son presidents only once: John Adams (1797-1801) and John Quincy Adams (1825-1829).
In TV ads and on the campaign trail, Bush said Gore couldn’t be trusted. Gore, 52, said Bush didn’t have the experience to be president. The Texas governor countered by tapping his father’s defense secretary Dick Cheney, a Washington veteran, as running mate.
Gore chose Lieberman, the first Jewish candidate on a major national ticket, and a voice of moral authority during the impeachment debate.
After eight months and $250 million in TV ads, most pre-election polls showed Bush with a narrow advantage in the popular vote, and he sought victory-sealing upsets in Democratic-leaning states like California and Wisconsin.
Along with the governors races, about 200 legislative contests could settle the balance of power in 20 states and determine which party controls the redrawing of political districts for the next decade.
In a burst of direct democracy, 42 state ballots offered 204 citizen initiatives and referendums from legislatures.
Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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