By SANDRA SOBIERAJ
WASHINGTON – Closing his epic, 36-day court battle, Al Gore was surrendering today in his fight for the highest prize of a life’s work in politics.
The vice president was to telephone Republican George W. Bush with congratulations once again – and finally – before telling the nation in a televised address that he was bowing out of the bitterly disputed presidential election.
Democratic running mate Joseph Lieberman was to be at Gore’s side for the speech he wrote himself.
The pair, who had pledged to “make history” with the country’s first Jewish vice president, were instead settling into record books as the first ticket since 1888 to win the nationwide popular vote but lose in the decisive Electoral College.
Aides expected the rival camps to discuss privately a meeting between Bush and Gore, symbolically beginning to neutralize the acid of this election and the 1992 race in which Bush saw his father driven from the White House by Gore and Bill Clinton.
Clinton telephoned from Northern Ireland minutes after news broke this morning that Gore was giving up. The two political partners had grown apart during the campaign, in which the vice president labored to distance himself from Clinton’s personal scandals.
More than 103 million Americans who went to the polls on Nov. 7 gave Gore a lead of about 330,000 over Bush.
The U.S. Supreme Court pushed Gore from his overtime struggle for an electoral majority when it ruled late Tuesday that further recounts in Florida could not meet constitutional muster in time for the Dec. 18 Electoral College vote.
Aides said Gore was grappling for the right words to help pull a deeply divided nation together – and to justify his dogged legal fight in Florida to see “that every vote is counted and counted accurately.”
“In his heart, I don’t think he wants to stop,” said Rep. Peter Deutsch, D-Fla., who regularly campaigned at Gore’s side in the state that ultimately gave Bush his 271-267 electoral margin.
One adviser close to Gore said he was writing the speech “on a clean slate,” using none of the words that he had prepared to deliver on election night. This adviser described Gore incorporating advice from his daughters and brother-in-law Frank Hunger, then dictating to speechwriter Eli Attie.
In a twist of holiday timing, Gore had to push his nationally televised concession to 9 p.m. in his ceremonial office at the Old Executive Office Building at the White House. The vice presidential mansion at the Naval Observatory, where he has delivered other major statements, was being overrun between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. by a long-scheduled Christmas party.
Gore privately conceded to Bush once before, in the wee hours of Nov. 8. But as the Florida vote appeared less certain, Gore called the Texas governor back to retract the concession, touching off the unthinkable election contest.
Aides who worked nearly two years on Gore’s presidential campaign betrayed today – in not-for-attribution remarks and casual asides – their bitterness about a split Supreme Court ruling they viewed as partisan and about Republican advantages they saw as stacked against them.
Gore had mounted his recount in a state where Bush’s brother, Jeb, is governor and the Republican secretary of state who certified Bush’s victory was also co-chairwoman of his Florida campaign.
Outside the residence, where Gore was with wife Tipper and their four children, two of whom hastened from homes out of town, a lone supporter held a “Gore 2004” sign.
Gore must leave the house before Republican Dick Cheney is sworn in as his replacement on Jan. 20. For the eight years they lived there, the Gores loaned brother-in-law Frank Hunger the Arlington, Va., home where Tipper Gore grew up and they raised their own family.
Associates said Gore, 52, had been so focused on the five weeks of legal wrangling that he never spoke – out loud, at least – about where his life might turn in defeat. Aboard Air Force Two one September night, the one-time newspaper reporter mused about maybe being “a writer of some kind.”
Some who know him well speculated he might turn to academia. Both Princeton and Harvard, his alma mater, will have vacancies at the helm next year.
Whether Gore, a senator’s son soon to be out of public office for the first time in 24 years, would or could try a third time for the White House in four years was an open question.
“That is several lifetimes in politics,” said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D. “There are lots of other capable people who, no doubt, will step forward. Certainly this was his best chance.”
Gore made his first grab at the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988 when he was just 39. This year, he ran as vice president and defeated his only primary competitor, former Sen. Bill Bradley.
Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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