Reversal of... ...Fortune
For a few moments, each side thought it had captured the presidency, only to lose it again. An inside look at that historic night and the war that has begun
Imagine for a moment what it was like to be Al Gore on Wednesday
morning. The man who said the presidential election wasn't a
popularity contest had won the popularity contest. He collected
more votes than Bill Clinton ever did, more votes than any other
Democrat in history. But like his father before him, he couldn't
hold on to his home state, and that could cost him the race. The
most fervent environmentalist in national politics was foiled by
the Green Party; the guy who as a young Congressman made his name
investigating tainted baby formula and influence peddling by the
contact-lens industry lost because of a few thousand votes for a
mischievous consumer advocate. Gore is the one who campaigned as
though every vote counted--and he was right.
Now imagine what it was like to be George W. Bush. He had led
for 20 out of the last 26 weeks in the polls, and his advisers
had promised he would win it in a walk. Now his life depended on
a state he viewed as a family colony. His entire message was
built around the promise to heal the divide, restore people's
faith in a system that seemed cruddy and cracked. Then the count
comes in and the cracks have deepened, no matter who wins and
how. All through his life he had followed his father's
footsteps--to Yale and flight school and the Oil Patch--but once
he got there, the prizes had lost some of their honor and shine.
The biggest prize of all was now within reach, back in the
family, but even if he finally wins, he has to wonder what it's
The rest of us woke up Wednesday morning not knowing who would be
the next leader of the free world, not knowing when we would
know, not knowing if the eventual winner would be able to govern
with a Senate split down the middle and a teeny Republican edge
in the House and a nation so neatly and clearly and evenly
divided that it would take a pair of tweezers to find a mandate
in the results. Neither side even tried.
The world's greatest economic powerhouse, cradle of the
information age, was counting ballots by hand. One hundred
million people had voted, and the outcome danced in the margin of
error. There were murmurs from all over the country, not just in
Florida, of broken voting machines and missing registrations and
disappearing ballot boxes and intimidation and confusion, a
growing conviction among true believers on both sides that this
prize was about to be stolen. The sleep-deprived commentariat
talked of a country divided and a constitutional crisis looming,
which may not have been true, but it didn't hurt ratings. The
markets shivered but did not collapse; people still read the
sports pages first.
After 18 months and more than a billion dollars, the 2000
presidential election looked as if it might be decided by one
five-thousandth of 1% of the vote. Gore seemed to have won a
moral victory, but he might not have won an actual one. His
222,880-vote lead in the popular tally was the fuel for his
campaign's demand for a manual recount in some Florida counties,
for time to register the outcome of the absentee ballots there,
and for the nation to show some patience. And so the end of one
campaign marked the beginning of another. "The American people
have now spoken," Bill Clinton declared, "but it's going to take
a while to determine exactly what they said."
Where we are going there are no maps and no guardrails. These two
men have choices to make. Both talked about the will of the
people and the rule of law, of bringing the country together. But
as the hours and days passed, the temperature began to rise, and
so did the stakes.
In public, the Bush position was essentially this: "We've won.
Gore lost. And while we're willing to have one recount because
the public believes in fairness, don't expect us to go along with
this forever." It's no accident that James Baker, former
Secretary of State and best friend of former President Bush, was
named to take charge of this battle. He is extremely experienced
at sending layers of signals simultaneously, and so he sent
different messages to the Democrats and to the nation.
To the American people he said, We're one of the great nations on
earth that transfers power peacefully. That meant Gore is taking
a crowbar to that tradition; how much damage are people willing
to tolerate? Baker said he was prepared to wait for the absentee
ballots, all due by this Friday, but drew a line at the prospect
of a third count, by hand this time, of the Florida ballots.
That is because those ballots frighten the Bush camp. On the
confusing "punch card" ballots, some voters did not punch through
the hole, leaving a little paper flap hanging. A machine may not
recognize this punch as a vote, but a human being might, which is
what the Democrats are hoping. They could pick up a thousand or
two votes this way; the first recount may have already given them
an extra 1,457. On Saturday, Baker announced that the Bush
campaign had gone to federal court to block any manual recount.
But Baker's coded message to the Democrats on Friday was already
a threat. "If we keep going down the path we're on," he warned,
"then we just can't sit on our hands, and we will be forced to do
what might be in our best personal interest but not in the best
interest of our wonderful country." In other words, if Gore
pushes Florida too hard, Bush will demand recounts in Iowa,
Wisconsin, New Mexico and Oregon. If Gore gains Florida but loses
a combination of three of those states, the Electoral College
vote will end in a deadlock, 269 to 269, and the race will tumble
into the House of Representatives, which the Republicans, by a
piece of tissue, control.
And top Republicans told TIME that, if necessary, Baker has every
intention of going after Gore's Achilles' heel in California: the
1 million absentee ballots. Bush would not win enough to take
back the state. But Republicans estimate that there are 600,000
Bush votes in boxes in California somewhere, and those could be
enough to reverse Gore's popular-vote victory.
The Bush strategy was to take away what it considers Gore's only
moral leverage. And so Baker was really offering Gore an exit
strategy: depart the field now as the clear popular-vote winner,
and live to fight another day--in 2004, Gore will be only 57--or
take your chances, face a popular-vote recount elsewhere, and
risk losing that imprimatur as party leader, heroic victim, Mr.
Popularity. Bush's people were betting Gore would take this
sooner or later. But the offer may not last long. "If they want
to play hardball, fine," said a Bush aide. "We're prepared."
The Democrats, meanwhile, did not like what they saw last week.
They did not like the images of Bush surrounded by a government
in waiting, all but ordering new White House china. And so their
strategy was to fight on three fronts, each with different
The first was the recount, to prevent the immediate certification
of the Florida results. The outcome from a hand count could still
save the day. There was also the outside chance that the overseas
ballots would include enough from Israel to tip the balance to
Gore. The second was the public relations war: stoke the anger of
African Americans and Jews--for whom disfranchisement strikes a
deep chord--throw Austin off balance, keep that transition from
getting organized. All this would have useful downstream benefits
for the Democrats even if they don't ultimately prevail. The
third track was to figure out the legal strategy while the first
two tracks bought them time to mull it over.
Gore has a powerful instinct for the endgame, as he has shown in
many budget battles, in his handling of Bosnia and above all at
the end of his losing presidential bid in 1988. It was a brutal
race, but he found a way to end it gracefully. More important
than winning, Gore said, was "helping my party, serving my
country, knowing when to keep fighting and knowing when I've been
licked." Some people close to Gore saw in the results last week a
popular mandate for his ideas. These were the people counseling
Gore to fight on as long as the cause was just; wait for the last
vote to be counted and checked; but then, if Bush retained his
edge, lay down the legal sword.
Then Gore could sit back and watch President Bush struggle to
move forward in a gruesomely divided Capitol, hoping that four
years from now his party could not possibly deny the nomination
to the man who had won the popular vote. Two of the three men in
American history who won the popular vote only to lose in the
Electoral College came back four years later to win in a
When Gore's father lost his Senate seat in 1970, he ended by
saying, "The truth shall rise again." Gore believes the truth is
still on his side, and he is a patient man.
Hillary Clinton, however, was losing no time. Her victory in New
York was also a piece of history, and not just because she is
the first First Lady ever elected to anything. She promised on
Friday to back a bill abolishing the Electoral College and
providing for direct popular vote for the President--the kind of
system that particularly favors candidates from big states. And
so the week ended with one dynasty struggling to survive as
another was being born--one intergenerational, one intermarital.
Both were conceived in pride and nursed on revenge, and you
wondered if they might meet one day to clash again.
No matter how hard they work and how far they travel and how
much they want it, when judgment day dawns, the candidates
usually stand still at last. They go to the polls and cast their
votes. Then they take a deep breath and just hold it for the
rest of the day. Bush woke up Tuesday morning at 6, made coffee
for his wife, fed his cats, read his Bible and called his folks
to reassure them that he would, indeed, become the 43rd
President of the U.S. His chief strategist, Karl Rove, had been
assuring him that victory was his--5 points in the popular vote,
330 electoral votes. How was he feeling? "Calm," he told the
assembled reporters. "Let me see if you got this by now. I trust
the people. I trust their will. I trust their wisdom."
The other man--bleary-eyed, wired, hoarse, drained of everything
but spirit after campaigning for 30 hours straight--had never even
made it to bed, and he was not about to stop. Gore began Monday
at dawn in the rain outside the John Deere factory in, of all
places, Waterloo, Iowa, then on to Missouri, Michigan and
Florida, where as the sun came up, he delivered Cuban pastries
from a local bakery to hundreds of cheering volunteers. By this
time the reporters trailing him had propped their tape recorders
up on the tables and curled up underneath them.
Throughout the day Tuesday, the campaigns knew that turnout was
huge in the battleground states--lines stretched around the block
in Cleveland, Ohio; voters waited for hours in Nashville, Tenn.;
and some precincts in Florida were reporting that 80% of
registered voters were at the polls. In New Mexico, snowplows
were used to deliver ballots in a storm; some precincts had no
electricity, but the voting machines had backup batteries.
Election Day began badly for Donna Brazile, Gore's chief turnout
strategist. Her suitcase had vanished. It contained her life, she
said, including her Bible and, most irreplaceable, her "grounding
stones," which her grandmother had given her and which are sort
of her good-luck charm. She was in no mood to be out of luck at
that particular moment. The first alarms went off at Gore
headquarters at 6 a.m. Workers there started hearing that voters
in heavily Democratic Palm Beach County were confused by the
ballots. "The ballots do not line up in the machine with the
correct candidates," said Joan Joseph of the Palm Beach County
Democratic Party. "People who think they are voting for Gore
could be voting for Pat Buchanan, because the word Democrat is
lined up with Buchanan."
As soon as party officials realized the problem, all hell broke
loose. They began frantically calling Democratic Party state
headquarters and Gore's command center in Tallahassee. In the
meantime, the Democrats frantically printed flyers to warn voters
about the problem and tried to get party activists to the polling
places to sound the alarm. But they had already missed the
important prework hours.
Midafternoon, when the initial exit polls came in, the first
hints of history in the making began to flicker through the
nation's e-mail system. They confirmed what some Bush aides had
feared--that they had lost momentum in the closing days. Gore had
hit Bush hard on not being ready to lead, on not even knowing
that Social Security was a federal program. The ticket that
promised to restore honor and dignity to the White House turned
out to have four arrests between them. The news of Bush's
drunk-driving record was hurting, said a senior Bush adviser.
"That's the only thing that changed in the last days of the
campaign." Voters who had made up their mind in the closing days
were breaking to Gore.
All afternoon, Gore was at the Loews Hotel in Nashville, sitting
in his hotel room in his blue suit and tie, on the radio, giving
interviews at five-minute intervals one after another. So were
Joe Lieberman, Karenna, Tipper. Everyone was on the phone, on the
air. Gore consulted with staff members about his speech for that
evening, how he wanted to frame a victory and how he would handle
a defeat. He asked for a section about his father, how he had
lost Tennessee but had never stopped loving it and calling it
home, and how sometimes it was better to lose because you stood
up for what you believed in.
Shortly before 8 p.m. the networks announced that Gore had taken
Florida. The battleground states of Michigan and Pennsylvania
soon fell as well, and every anchor became a math teacher,
showing how it was increasingly difficult for Bush to find the
270 electoral votes he would need to win. All the networks were
reading the data from the Voter News Service consortium and
grinding it through their own analysis to try to be the first to
declare a winner. Little things can make a difference when every
minute counts, and what they didn't know was that VNS had a bad
sample in Tampa, some faulty data in Jacksonville. Plus there
were voters in Palm Beach who told the exit pollers that they had
voted for Gore, when in fact their vote had been registered for
Bush had hoped to have a special dinner with his wife and parents
and brother Jeb, cherishing the knowledge that the exit polls
were telling them everything they wanted to hear. But Bush was
already tense when he got to the Shoreline Grill early that
evening. As the family members made their way under dim lights to
the restaurant, Bush's shoulders were more hunched than usual,
his father looked as if he were suffering from an ulcer, and
Barbara wore a smile as tight as a fist. By then they knew the
race was much closer than Rove had promised it would be. But it
wasn't until the news that Gore had captured Florida appeared on
a TV screen in the restaurant that the mood turned from grim to
Jeb Bush, Florida's Governor, reportedly succumbed to the
pressure that has been on him ever since his brother announced
for the presidency. With tears in his eyes, Jeb apologized to his
brother for letting him down. Poppy and Barbara were distraught.
The family business--politics--was now tearing at the fabric of the
family itself. The media reports had been hard to take: reports
that Jeb hadn't worked hard enough for George, that he resented
George's relatively greater success and was worried that a George
in the White House would almost certainly mean there would never
be a Jeb there one day. Now those notions and rumors could harden
into truths passed on from one stranger to another: Jeb had
failed. He had sabotaged his brother's campaign. He couldn't
Jeb left the restaurant. And instead of staying at the Four
Seasons suite to savor the moment with friends and staff, George
decided he just wanted to go home. He summoned the motorcade to
take him and Laura and Mom and Dad back to the Governor's mansion
to watch and wait and wonder. Jeb would later turn up there too.
If George really came unglued at the prospect of losing, he would
allow only his family to see it.
The Bush aides at campaign headquarters were beside themselves
that the networks would call Florida even before polls had closed
in the more heavily Republican panhandle, which is in the Central
time zone. Also, the raw numbers the Bush people were seeing were
telling them they were slightly ahead of Gore statewide, not
behind. "I don't believe some of these states they've called,"
Bush said. Rove and strategist Ed Gillespie called the networks
to complain. "I don't know how you can call a state that's this
close!" Bush media adviser Stu Stevens protested. "It's
ridiculous! It's an outrage!" It was Rove's idea to summon the
camera pool into the Governor's mansion so Bush could break into
the newscasts and question the Florida results himself on network
television. "It's going to be a long night," Bush said.
The calls were desperate because the steam was going out of the
Bush effort in the West. In California, the Florida call hit just
at the wrong moment: drive time. Voters and volunteers have to be
wooed on their way to work or going home. Once they get home,
it's a lot harder to get them out of their comfy chairs into dark
cafeterias and libraries to vote. After Florida was called, Bush
volunteers just started going home or not showing up at all.
At 8:15, Gore was surfing the time zones, calling tiny radio
stations in rural New Mexico, urging people to vote. Lieberman
was working Arizona and Minnesota. Gore's geeks were hunched over
their computers hunting for paths to the magic 270 electoral
votes in states in which the polls were still open. Once they
lost New Hampshire, their eyes turned to New Mexico; if that
collapsed, it would come down to Oregon. Even back in New York,
President Clinton had quickly concluded that, with Florida, Gore
had 262 electoral votes locked up. So at the moment Clinton's
wife was declared the winner of her historic Senate race, the
leader of the free world was talking to a Las Vegas radio
station, trolling for the last eight votes.
Down in Austin, Rove and polling analyst Matthew Dowd were in
their adjacent offices, glued to their computers and telephones.
"They were like mad scientists with those calculators," says
media strategist Mark McKinnon. "They were punching them so hard
and so fast, it sounded like a machine gun." At various points
one of them would shout that they were a thousand votes down or a
thousand votes up. "We lived and died a thousand times tonight,"
said McKinnon. Spectators hovered outside Rove's office, looking
in through a glass window. "We were all standing around like
expectant fathers," says Jim Ferguson, a member of Bush's outside
ad team. "We were all looking through the window hoping the baby
wouldn't come out with three heads." On several occasions, Rove
ordered people to stand back from his door, as though his
office--or he himself--were a victim of exhaustion, collapsed on
the ground on a hot day and in need of both air and medical
At 9:55 p.m., CNN took Florida back from Gore, and the other
networks shortly followed, declaring it too close to call. The
lobby of the Nashville Loews was suddenly empty. Campaign
chairman Bill Daley was on his cell phone, and he looked sick.
For his part, Bush "was like a prizefighter pulling himself off
the mat," said a source who was in frequent touch with those at
the mansion. Bush kept calling Rove at the headquarters,
demanding new information. "How's it look?" he would ask.
"Anything new?" By 1:30 most states had tumbled one way or the
other, and both men had a total of 242 electoral votes. The
counts were unimaginably, unbearably close. Florida was still
undecided, but by 1 a.m. the Bush camp had more than a
200,000-vote cushion. Bush staff members knew Dade and Broward
counties still hadn't reported, but their models told them they
had a lead that was insurmountable. The margin would shrink, but
then "it was just a matter of hanging on to the cliff by our
fingers," remembers McKinnon. The problem is "each finger kept
getting stepped on." He and Ferguson nipped out for a little
tequila to calm their nerves. Rove, who was wearing his phone
headset all evening, was calling a statistics professor in Texas
for his analysis of how the numbers were running, and then
yelling, "Get me Dowd!" to his secretary, whereupon Dowd would
turn up with the latest news he had gathered from surfing the
Around 2 a.m., Rove called the Governor. "Mr. President," he
began, and then he told him what they'd just learned. They had
won enough votes in Florida's Hillsborough County to win the
state--and the whole prize. Ninety-eight percent of the
precincts were in, and they were ahead by more than 50,000 votes.
At 2:15 a.m. the networks gift-wrapped Florida once more and this
time handed it to Bush. "Everyone went insane, screaming and
crying," McKinnon says. Virtually the entire staff in the
headquarters left the building, forming a dance line up Congress
Avenue along the eight blocks to the celebration site. The
colored lights were flashing on the capitol; it's a miracle no
one was electrocuted in the sweeping rain. At the rally, the
television screens switched to a video of Bush on the trail, at
home and on the ranch, all to the tune of Signed, Sealed,
Gore was watching the final returns in the staff room on the
seventh floor of the Loews. Of his family, only Karenna was with
him, her arm around him, rubbing his back, at other times sitting
on the floor. When it was finally called for Bush, there was a
moment of stunned silence. Then as Gore stood and thanked his
aides, they began to cry and hug one another. The Vice President
made it clear that he wanted to move with swift grace to say his
goodbye to his waiting supporters and the country. He started
working on his concession speech with what an aide described as a
"let's get it over with" resolve. He returned to his private
family suite on the ninth floor as a resolute Tipper stood with
him. Gore comforted his sobbing daughters.
What happened next has Democrats still baffled. The man who was
willing to fight so long and work so hard and campaign until he
dropped seemed in a hurry to drop out. He had been up for 50
hours straight by this time. But Tipper was ready to hold on a
while longer, and so were some other aides, including former
chief of staff Jack Quinn, who was in the lobby on the phone.
Lieberman too wanted to fight. Brazile got an e-mail from her
assistant saying it had been called. She wrote back, "Never
surrender. It's not over yet." As they headed to the motorcade,
Brazile's gut told her they were moving too quickly. "It was like
going to a funeral but without a corpse."
Nonetheless, Gore called Bush around 2:30 a.m. to concede.
"You're a good man," Bush told him. He said he understood how
hard this was, and gave his best wishes to Tipper and the
But the man who invented the Internet was suddenly saved by it.
As Gore's motorcade splashed through the rainy streets to the war
memorial for the concession speech, traveling chief of staff
Michael Feldman's pager quivered. It was field director Michael
Whouley, saying he needed to talk to Daley. "Changed situation
here," Whouley said. He was in the boiler room, watching the
Florida Board of Elections website, which, Daley says, "had the
margin down to 900, and within minutes, it was 500, 200, slipping
pretty quickly." By now the motorcade had arrived at the
memorial. Daley told Feldman to grab the Veep and keep him from
going onstage. "I said, 'Well, Michael, it probably would be good
to go to a holding room,'" said Daley. Everyone's phone was
ringing now. "We had no TV, everyone was on a cell phone," says
adviser Greg Simon. "People were calling us from everywhere,
saying you're only 500 votes, 600 votes behind, don't concede."
Daley called his counterpart in the Bush camp, Don Evans, and
said, "We may have a situation here." Under Florida law, a margin
that slim triggers an automatic recount. Then, around 3:45, Gore
got on the phone himself with the Governor. "As you may have
noticed, things have changed," he said. If indeed the vote went
to Bush, he'd be happy to concede and give him his support, but
for now, "the state of Florida is too close to call," Gore said.
Aides in the room say Bush was not taking the news well. "You
could tell Bush was definitely barking at him," says someone who
was there. "Let me make sure I understand," Bush said, stunned.
"You're calling me back to retract your concession." These are
two fiercely competitive men, and they have not become friends in
the past year. "Well, there's no reason to get snippy," Gore
said. He had to repeat himself--it's too close to concede--a couple
of times. Bush was confident that this time the networks were
right. Brother Jeb was right there, crunching the numbers for
himself from the Florida website. "Let me explain it to you,"
Gore said. "Your younger brother is not the ultimate authority on
this." The call ended abruptly. "Well, Mr. Vice President," Bush
said, "you need to do what you have to do."
When gore put down the phone, he pumped his arm in victory, the
aides around him burst into cheers, and all began to applaud.
Outside in the cold, damp night, his supporters were waiting for
word. For a brief time, they debated the idea of rewriting the
concession speech and sending Gore out to capture the moment of
suspended animation. The Veep's concern was that all these people
had waited hours in the rain, and they would want to see him in
person. But they quickly decided to send Daley out instead. Daley
and Karenna stood over speechwriter Eli Attie and shouted their
ideas at him as he tapped out the draft of what the chairman
As Daley bounded out onto the stage, the crowd chanted, "Stay and
fight," and "We count," and, finally, "Fuzzy math."
"I've been in politics for a long time," he said. "But there's
never been a night like this one." Gore and Lieberman, he said,
were fully prepared to concede the race and wish Bush well "if
and when he is officially elected President." But in the
meantime, "our campaign continues."
Truer words were never spoken. Before the motorcade had even made
it back to the Loews, the Gore team was moving fast. Seventy
lawyers and operatives, led by former chief of staff Ron Klain,
piled onto Lieberman's chartered plane to head down to Florida.
They would be on the ground within two hours.
The rest of the world was dizzy. Foreign leaders had been sending
Bush their congratulatory telegrams, and then had to call and
retract them. The networks had unfurled their fancy presidential
script, "George W. Bush, 43rd President," only to roll it back up
again. The New York Times had to stop the presses. The Gore mob
back at the hotel were as happy as they had been distraught about
an hour before. Daley was telling reporters what had happened.
"When you're done, come into the bar!" Carter Eskew, Gore's old
newspaper friend and now his message adviser, hollered.
"Fine," Daley answered. "I'll do the Today show from there."
When Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes faced reporters after the sun
came up Wednesday morning, she--and they--were still dazed and
confused. "I watched it this morning on television in excerpts,
and I thought maybe it had all been a dream, and then I realized
I was awake the whole time," she said. The entire shape and
design of the past 18 months have been for the campaigns to look
presidential, as if by appearing so, they were so. Their
confidence raised them all that money and helped them resist all
that advice from Washington. And so Bush aides carefully leaked
that Dick Cheney would be heading the transition effort and would
be assisted by Colin Powell. Andrew Card, the deputy chief of
staff under President Bush, would now be chief of staff. Several
photo ops were staged with Bush and his Cabinet-in-waiting to
show that this certification was just a matter of time, so he'd
better get down to business. "There was some internal debate
about beginning the transition," says a Republican in touch with
Austin. "Does it seem arrogant and overconfident, or does that
When Bush himself appeared outside the Governor's mansion, he
said that "America has a long tradition of uniting once elections
are over." He held out an olive branch to Gore's supporters: "I
want to assure them that should the election go the way that we
think it will, that I will work hard to earn their confidence."
But he wasn't taking any chances. All through his campaign Bush
had been careful to keep his father's closest friends and
retainers at some distance to avoid all that dynasty talk. But
the moment the battle was over and the war began, it was the
fabulous Bush and Baker boys all over again. Hughes described
Baker as "a calming presence." His nickname in Washington is the
And he needed to be one, since the Bushes' own party wanted to go
to war. "Austin is lying back," said a party source. "They don't
realize this is not about Florida. It is about the whole damn
election." The resentment went back to the last days of the
campaign. Bush's team had made a stop in California the week
before the election that seemed truly idiotic to friends at the
Republican National Committee in Washington. Republicans thought
the Texan was just coasting in at the end. On the Sunday nine
days before the vote, Bush was at home. Gore was out working just
as hard as ever.
So the wise men in D.C. began to weigh in. "Do they know what
they're up against?" asked a befuddled Bush supporter in
Congress. The old and deep bitterness over alleged Democratic
dirty tricks also bubbled up like a hot spring. Senators and
Representatives were calling officials at the r.n.c. saying,
"Don't let them get away with it."
Gore, meanwhile, called in a Secretary of State of his own,
Warren Christopher, whose primary role was to stand up and look
grave and reliable and say that "we are not on the edge of a
constitutional crisis, and we don't intend to provoke a
constitutional crisis." Gore made a statement in the
afternoon--measured, careful and, to the true believers,
infuriating. Gore and Christopher and Daley are all the type who
take the long view. But the activists felt cheated and
disfranchised and were looking for Fighting Al.
The heart of the fight was those confusing Palm Beach ballots.
Some 19,000 had been thrown out because voters had punched two
holes for President; an additional 10,000 did not register any
presidential choice. Hearing about the ballot's design problem,
other voters in the county became convinced on Wednesday that
they had accidentally voted for Buchanan, whose total of 3,407
votes in the county was three times as high as in neighboring
counties with different-style ballots. Buchanan, never one to
miss a chance to stir hot soup if it could spill on someone named
Bush, went on the air and said he did not think all those votes
had been intended for him. With Bush emerging from the initial
count with a 1,784-vote lead, this could mean the margin of
victory for Gore.
When they looked closely as the recount was getting under way,
Democrats noticed that in other counties with punch ballots, a
disproportionate number had no votes for President. In Broward
alone, which gave Gore 68% of its vote, there were 6,686 ballots
that did not register a presidential vote. In Pinellas, election
authorities figured out this problem and began removing the
little hanging flap from the punch cards, although they didn't
catch all the faulty ballots before the full recount was
completed. Nonetheless, Gore picked up 417 votes there, and now
it became important for Democrats to press for a hand count.
That is also why, as the legally required machine recount was
taking place, both sides ramped up the war of words. By Thursday,
Daley wasn't doing a very good job of containing his anger. He
accused the Bush people of trying to "presumptively crown
themselves the victors, to try to put in place a transition,"
thereby running "the risk of dividing the American people." With
that, the markets began to wobble, the NASDAQ bungee-jumping 87
points before springing back up.
"Daley really hit a nerve," says a top aide in the Bush camp.
Said another Republican in Washington, in a not so veiled
reference to Daley's father's reputation as the Chicago mayor who
cooked elections: "The idea of being lectured on the sanctity of
the ballot by Daley is pretty galling to Republicans. It's like
waving a red flag." Bush campaign chairman Evans denounced the
Democrats for "politicizing and distorting these events at the
expense of our democracy."
Already the pressure was building. By the time the recount was
over, Bush's original margin had sagged to a mere 327 votes, but
he remained ahead. Prominent Democrats like New Jersey Senator
Bob Torricelli and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich called on
the Gore campaign not to lawyer the race to death. Editorial
pages looked for the Maginot Line.
The Gore camp tried to get a sense of where the public stood, how
long it could fight on. But officials said they were not able to
poll the issue because there was no money to pay for it. As of 5
p.m. Friday, the campaign ceased to exist legally. Everyone was
ordered to turn in cell phones, laptops and pagers.
But the campaigns had disintegrated and re-formed like little
blobs of mercury. Partisans outside the circle were starting to
pick up clubs and sticks of their own. "The longer this goes on,
the less control the people at the center have," said a
Republican Party official. "The great illusion in Austin and
Nashville is that they can control the tens of millions of
Americans who are interested in this."
As war was breaking out between the two camps, there was one
corner of political cordiality in America on Thursday night, and
it happened, of all places, as close to the presidency as any of
the two pretenders could hope to be last week, and between the
two men who propelled them into the race. The former Presidents
and First Ladies gathered at the White House to celebrate its
200th anniversary, and the buzz in the room was all about the
history that was being made that week. Bush smiled his way
through, gracious to everyone, but now and then he would mutter
out of the side of his mouth to friends, "I've never been
through anything like this." Barbara Bush confided to a friend,
"I was the mother of a President for 30 minutes, and I loved
it." When it came time to speak, both the President and the
former President tried to reach across the breach. Bush talked
about the pride he and Barbara had in their son, and Clinton
told of the pride they deserved to feel. The two men had been
seen talking alone, smiling and nodding. Bush was scheduled to
leave on a late flight to Spain to go hunting with the King, so
he left early. But he came back a few minutes later when told
his plane had broken down in the Midwest. It was as if the
citizens' house had momentarily cast a spell and was nudging for
--Reported by Michael Duffy/Washington, James Carney and John F.
Dickerson with Bush and Karen Tumulty and Tamala M. Edwards with