Opening a wild final chapter on a campaign that could hardly have been much closer, a recount of votes in Florida has thrown the outcome of the presidential race into doubt.
Though he had been declared the loser by television networks, including ABC, Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore refused to concede defeat as he inched within fewer than 1,000 votes of Bush in Florida.
As results from late-reporting precincts came in early this morning, ABCNEWS projected Bush would win Florida — putting the Republican over the top with 271 electoral votes, one more than he needed to win election as the 43rd president of the United States.
‘Too Close to Call’
But as the Gore campaign realized the margin of victory would be less than one-half of 1 percent of the popular vote, small enough to trigger an automatic recount, plans for a concession were shelved. (See related story about the recount.) With Florida and Oregon remaining too close to call this morning, Gore held 260 of the 270 votes needed to win the Electoral College. Bush held 246.
Both candidates are getting some rest now, their campaigns said.
“Without being certain of the results in Florida, we simply cannot be certain of the results of this national election,” Gore campaign chairman William Daley told wildly cheering Gore supporters in Nashville, Tenn. “This race is simply too close to call, and until the results — the recount is concluded and the results in Florida become official, our campaign continues.”
Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, who also serves as Gore’s campaign chairman in the state, said a recount would be called and pledged that it would “not take that long.” Butterworth said the recount could begin today and be completed as early as tomorrow, but other Democratic Party officials said the recount could take up to two weeks.
Lawyer Warren Christopher, a former Clinton secretary of state who also headed Gore’s vice-presidential search effort, is flying to Nashville and will head the vote-counting effort for the Gore campaign in Florida.
Several thousand Florida votes are under scrutiny because of ballot irregularities, including the possibility that some voters may have inadvertently marked their ballots for Pat Buchanan when they meant to go for Bush or Gore. (See related story.)
“We owe it to the country to make sure that the appropriate person won the popular vote,” Butterworth said.
Both campaigns tried to spin the current results as positively as they could. But reporters on the ground said Bush campaign operatives were confused, angry and somewhat puzzled after a night which saw defeat, victory and then finally mystery.
“The only thing that remains [in Florida] are overseas ballots, usually military personnel,” Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer told Good Morning America. “In 1996, those ballots broke 54 percent for Bob Dole in a year in which Dole [lost] the state with 43 percent of the vote.”
Many absentee ballots remain in Florida, but on-the-ground results in several counties are also being scrutinized. And though military voters tend to go Republican, a young military group could contain many African-Americans and Latinos who may vote Democratic.
Fleischer said he’s not prepared to say whether the candidate would appoint a transition team, as is traditional for presidents-elect.