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Speaking too soon: Incorrect projections confuse presidential outcome

(CNN) -- The Florida recount crucial to the presidential election of 2000 was preceded by events that proved to be just as unusual.

Much of the confusion that reached into the upper echelons of both campaigns was sparked by erroneous projections by the TV networks.

The networks, including CNN, announced that exit polling data projected that Democratic Vice President Al Gore would win Florida and all 25 of its important electoral votes.

But when actual returns started coming in, the networks retracted their projection.

"The networks are calling this thing awfully early, but the people counting the votes have a different perspective," GOP candidate George W. Bush said afterward.

But a little after 2 a.m. EST, the networks declared Florida for Bush, based on exit polls.

As a result, Gore called Bush just after 2:30 a.m. to congratulate him

Aides told CNN Gore was traveling to a Nashville, Tennessee, hotel to deliver his concession speech to thousands of supporters and was just two blocks away when staffers were able to persuade Gore not to make the speech until more information about Florida was available.

At about 3 a.m. EST, the networks retracted the Bush projection, just as they did the Gore projection.

Gore then called Bush back to retract his earlier congratulatory concession while Gore supporters rallied outside the Nashville campaign headquarters chanting "recount, recount, recount."

Bush campaign spokeswoman Karen Hughes described Bush's response to Gore.

"He said, 'Mr. Vice President, you have to do what you have to do,'" Hughes said. "It was an amazing night."

Gore campaign chairman William Daley agreed. "There's never been a night like this one," he said.

In Texas, Bush's hometown newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman, had to stop the presses after printing 59,000 copies with the front-page headline "Bush!"



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