Bush on verge of victory, awaiting late Fla. ballots

By RON FOURNIER

Associated Press

Texas Gov. George W. Bush fought Al Gore in an agonizingly close presidential election Tuesday. Gore called Bush with congratulations, then called back to say he wasn’t ready to concede.

It was an incredible political spectacle by any standard.

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.

Supporters in Nashville chanted, “Recount!”

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 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.

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

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.”

Bush was said to be poised to claim his prize.

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.

Several states were still to close to call.

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.”

With the election so tight, Democrats were sure to second-guess Gore’s refusal to involve President Clinton in his campaign. They also were sure to rue the day that Green Party candidate Ralph Nader entered the race and siphoned off Gore votes in several key states.

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

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 2 a.m. EST, Bush had won 29 states for 246 electoral votes of the needed 270. Gore had won 16 states plus the District of Columbia for 237. Florida offered a tantalizing 25 votes to its winner.

“It looks like the candidate who wins Florida will be the next president of the United States,” said Gore spokesman Mark Fabiani, a practical reality more than a mathematical certainty.

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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