Some reflections on the closest election ever

From November 2000. I was on the West Coast I observe as the on-again off-again result in Florida unfolds

Dateline 08 November 2000

Can you imagine the scene at Wembley in 1966? The Queen is about to hand Bobby Moore the World Cup when she pauses and says "There seems to have been a possible problem with Geoff's second goal. Some people are looking at it now. They should know in a day or two, maybe ten. Definitely by the middle of next month." As Robert Heinlein said, "politics is the only game for grown ups".

This is how I experienced the story so far. All times are in Pacific time, it is now 09:30 and Florida is being recounted.

At around 16:00 yesterday I was at the CA GOP HQ in central Los Angeles. CNN called the first two states to Bush: Indiana (no surprise) and Kentucky (a bellweather which always votes for the winner). 17:00 they declare Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Georgia as too close to call. We are horrified by Virginia and Georgia, and don't believe it. People are talking about Connie Mack's election in Florida six years ago. It went against him on the night, but as the overseas votes came in (mostly military) it moved back in his favour and he was declared the winner almost two weeks later.

We switch channels to Fox, which has Virginia in Bush's column and is calling the Senate election there a Republican gain. Around 17:00 all the networks call Florida for Gore. We are disheartened, but we know that either Pennsylvania or Michigan would still give us victory. Not long afterwards the networks call them both for Gore. The calculators come out. It is tough, but it can still be done. We will need to sweep not only the South plus the desert and mountain states (likely) but also some states like Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, Iowa and Wisconsin which have been loyally Democrat in the past.

18:00 sees Missouri and Ohio called for Bush. We are back in the game, just.

A group of us head off to a phone bank for the final hour of the campaign. On the way over Rush is talking of the likelihood of a Gore Presidency and warning people not to call his show tomorrow as he will be "so ticked off".

At 19:00 as we arrive at the phone bank NPR withdraws Florida from Gore's column. The car erupts.

The last hour of getting out the vote is nerve-wracking. Some of our people have given up on the basis of inaccurate (possibly) media reports from the East Coast.

The states keep coming in. California is called for Gore with a 15 point lead as soon as the polls close. But Bush is continuing to win the South and the rest of the West. Gore has done just well enough in the mid-west to make Florida the likely decider.

Around 22:00 I arrive at the LA Marriot for the Bush-Cheney party. By now Bush is ahead in Florida, the absentee votes also seem to favour the Republicans, at least by registration.

Around 22:30 the Marriot erupts: CNN has called the House for the GOP. The Senate seems secure. On the worst scenario the Vice-Presidency gives it to the GOP: either Cheney has the casting vote or Lieberman vacates his seat and the Republican Governor appoints a replacement. Enough votes are in to ensure that the winner of Florida will win.

Rumours begin to circulate that the California call was premature. CNN is claiming Bush has won the popular vote but could still lose the College. Much cursing of the College at the Marriot.

23:00 CNN calls Florida and the Electoral College for Bush. Everyone run around hugging and kissing people they had never met before. (I liked this bit).

23:30 Gore phones Bush to concede. But, an hour later, he has still not made a statement. Florida is getting closer.

00:30 rumours start to circulate that Gore has retracted his concession. Finally, Bill Daley comes out and calls the Florida call premature. Much booing and hissing at the Marriot, though we all concede we would have done the same.

CNN declares Florida too close to call, again. Now Gore is closing in the popular vote as California precincts start to declare. MSNBC takes New Mexico out of Gore's column.

About 01:00 it is clear there will be a recount in Florida. CNN manages to get a Florida election official on the phone, but loses him again. He declares that Bush is ahead, but the margin is within the statutory 0.5%. Bush leads by 1300 votes and there are 2200, mostly military, overseas votes to come in.

By now the Bush lead is 1700, but one precinct making a serious error could throw it, even with the overseas votes. It seems clear that, despite all the speculation last night, it is Gore who has won the popular vote but could still be denied the Presidency.

And, as I repeatedly reminded people last night, the election is on December 18th. 271 electoral votes (which Bush will have if he wins Florida) doesn't seal it, because Electors are not bound.

Copyright Quentin Langley 08 November 2000

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