By RICHARD BERKE
The New York Times
The New York Times
WASHINGTON – Vice President Al Gore reluctantly surrendered his quest for the presidency on Wednesday night, telling the American public in a gracious and poignant address that while he was deeply disappointed and strongly disagreed with the U.S. Supreme Court’s verdict, “partisan rancor must now be put aside.”
In an eight-minute televised speech from his ceremonial office next to the White House, Gore said he had telephoned Gov. George W. Bush to offer his congratulations. He pledged to stand behind the new president-elect.
“Now the United States Supreme Court has spoken,” he said. “Let there be no doubt. While I strongly disagree with the court’s decision, I accept it. I accept the finality of the outcome, which will be ratified next Monday in the Electoral College. And tonight, for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession.”
The speech was an emotional and political crest for Gore, 52, who had such qualms about giving up his race for the White House, a lifelong goal, that aides said he was on the telephone with them at least until 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, asking about possible legal avenues that the Supreme Court’s decision might have left open. He told his advisers that he wanted to sleep on it before making a final decision.
Many politicians said Gore’s address was even more important than the one by Bush that followed. By submerging any bitter feelings and sounding a conciliatory tone, they said, Gore helped reduce the festering tensions between Republicans and Democrats who cling to the belief that their candidate should rightfully claim the White House.
Gore declared that he would “honor the new president-elect and do everything possible to help him bring Americans together in fulfillment of the great vision that our Declaration of Independence defines and that our Constitution affirms and defends.”
For all his outreach to Bush, Gore dropped several not-so-veiled hints that this might not be his last try for the White House. Making clear that he is not about to fade away – or stop fighting – Gore said, “I do have one regret, that I didn’t get the chance to stay and fight for the American people over the next four years, especially for those who feel their voices have not been heard. I heard you and I will not forget.”
He added: “I’ve seen America in this campaign and I like what I see. It’s worth fighting for – and that’s a fight I’ll never stop.”
Over the holidays, he said, he would return to his home state of Tennessee to spend time “mending fences, both literally and figuratively.” This was his first public nod to his humiliating rejection on Election Night by the state of his forefathers. He spent his summers in Tennessee and represented the state in the Senate for eight years and in the House for eight years before that.
But Gore, who will leave public office for the first time in 24 years, said he did not know what he will do after he leaves the White House. “As for what I’ll do next,” he said, “I don’t know the answer to that one yet.”
It was arguably the most consequential, and probably the most wrenching, speech he has ever delivered because Gore has told friends that he thinks he has a rightful claim to the White House given that he won the popular vote – and believes that more voters in Florida intended to back him.
“Look at the popular vote and add in the fact that they never got votes counted in Florida,” one of Gore’s senior aides said on Wednesday night. “In many ways, he’s like a shadow president.”
Indeed, for all of Gore’s words of reconciliation on Wednesday night, the vice president was only willing to go so far. He did not utter the word “winner” or say that he believed Bush was the victor.
“I know that many of my supporters are disappointed,” Gore said. “I am too. But our disappointment must be overcome by our love of country.”
Reaching out to the man who will be the 43rd president, he said: “President-elect Bush inherits a nation whose citizens will be ready to assist him in the conduct of his large responsibilities. I personally will be at his disposal and I call on all Americans – I particularly urge all who stood with us – to unite behind our next president.”
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