The fight to keep Al Gore off stage on election night

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CNN's Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger revisits the 2000 election in a CNN Special Report, "Bush v. Gore: The Endless Election," Monday at 9 p.m. ET.

Washington (CNN)It was sometime after 3 a.m. on Election night 2000, and David Morehouse was chasing the vice president of the United States down a hallway. Weaving through crowds of people, Morehouse had one mission: Stop Al Gore from making what could be the biggest mistake of his political career.

Morehouse, Gore's trip director, was in pursuit under the stage of the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee, the site of Gore's election night rally. He knew something that only a handful of others did: Despite what the television networks were reporting, the election results in Florida were just too close to call. Gore hadn't lost the presidency, at least not yet.
Problem was, nobody had told Gore.
The last time Morehouse had seen Gore, the vice president was getting into the motorcade for the trip from the Lowes Hotel to the War Memorial. Gore thought he was on the way to publicly concede the presidency after one of the longest -- and most bizarre -- election nights in recent memory.
    The key state of Florida had been called first for Gore and then put back in the "too close to call" column. Then, in the wee hours of the morning, the networks had called Florida -- and the presidency -- for George W. Bush.
    But everything changed during that motorcade ride.
    As Gore drove through Nashville, back at campaign headquarters, his numbers guru Michael Whouley was watching as the race in Florida grew increasingly tight.
    "There was a furious scramble to find somebody in the motorcade," Whouley said in a recent interview with CNN.
    Whouley eventually did, getting in touch with senior adviser Michael Feldman and Campaign Chairman Bill Daley.
    "I was just seeing my life kind of flash in front of me and kind of breaking out into a sweat thinking, 'Oh my god, what do we do here?' " Daley recalled.
    The immediate answer was to at least stop Gore from going on stage. But while Daley and Feldman were both in the motorcade, neither was actually with Gore.
    "I was worried that the physical distance was going to keep me, you know, from putting the brakes on literally," Feldman said.
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    Feldman's next step -- as the motorcade was just pulling into the War Memorial -- was reaching Morehouse, with a simple message: "I said, 'Whatever happens, he cannot go out on stage.' "
    As Gore's traveling chief, Morehouse should have been the person closest to the vice president. And on a usual night, he would have been.
    "Normally, I get out of the car, wait for him, hand him briefing cards. He gets out and we walk into the holding room together," Morehouse said.
    But not tonight.
    "The campaign's over in his mind," Morehouse said. "First time the whole campaign, he didn't wait for me. He just got up, got out of the car, and he started walking."
    For Morehouse, the chase was on. And in the judgment of Whouley, the stakes couldn't have been higher: "It would have been a catastrophic event if he went to that podium and conceded in front of the whole country."
    "We're walking down a long hallway ... the Vice President's walking really fast," Morehouse recalled. "So it takes me a little bit to catch up with him ... End of the hallway's some stairs that lead to the outside, where the stage is. And I said, 'Mr. Vice President, we have to go to a hold (room).' ... and he said, 'I'm not going to the hold. The governor -- I called the governor [Bush]. The governor's waiting on me.'"
    That's when Morehouse said he realized Gore wasn't paying attention to him.
    The two reached the bottom of the stairs, and Morehouse positioned himself in front of the stairs.
    "We have to go hold," he told Gore. Gore wanted to know why.
    Morehouse told the vice president, "I just got a call from Michael Feldman. We'll talk about in the hold."
    "This better be good," Gore said, according to Morehouse.
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    And it was.
    As a soaking wet crowd of supporters chanted his name outside, in a small holding room Gore picked up a phone to make one of the more historic calls in political history.
    Also in the room was Gore running mate Sen. Joe Lieberman.
    "I said, 'Al you can't concede!' and he said, 'You're damn right, and I'm not conceding,' " Lieberman told CNN.
    But Gore already had conceded to Bush in a phone call about an hour earlier. This second phone call would be more than just a little awkward.
    "You hear Al say to Gov. Bush, 'Governor, as you know, the results are very close, and I think it would be irresponsible for me to concede, so I'm going to have to withdraw the concession I made to you before,' " Lieberman recalled to CNN.
    And then, the line that would become a catchphrase of the entire recount: "We don't hear Gov. Bush, but at one point I believe Al said something like, 'You don't have to be so snippety about it,' " Lieberman recalled.
    The call over, there was just one thing left to do. Someone had to tell the crowd outside -- and the entire world -- that the United States hadn't yet elected a new president.
    "Gore said to me: 'You do it.' I said I'm not going to do it," Daley said. But in the end, Daley would agree, walking out to say that Florida was headed to a recount and proclaiming to a cheering crowd that "our campaign continues."
    And it would, for 36 more days.