Gore concedes presidential election
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Vice President Al Gore conceded the 2000 presidential election Wednesday night, effectively concluding an election that was supposed to have ended five weeks ago.
"Tonight, for the sake of our unity of the people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession," Gore said in televised address from Washington's Old Executive Building, adjacent to the White House.
With his family and running mate, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, solemnly watching a few feet from the podium, Gore told the nation that had placed a telephone call to Texas Gov. George W. Bush offering his congratulations.
"I promised him that I wouldn't call him back this time," Gore quipped, referring to his Election Night concession to Bush he retracted an hour later. "I offered to meet with him as soon as possible so that we can start to heal the divisions of the campaign and the contest through which we just passed."
Gore's action came more than a month after the Nov. 7 election, and the inconclusive results triggered weeks of ballot recounting, legal challenges and delays in the traditional presidential transition process.
"Neither he (Bush) nor I anticipated this long and difficult road, certainly neither of us wanted it to happen," Gore said. "Yet it came, and now it has ended. Resolved, as it must be resolved, through the honored institutions of our democracy."
It was Tuesday night's convoluted but crucial ruling by the United States Supreme Court which effectively ended his hopes of being declared the victor and set the stage to make Bush the president-elect.
The nation's highest court halted an order by the Florida Supreme Court mandating a statewide recount of so-called undervotes -- ballots which showed no vote for any presidential candidate during a machine count -- because it failed to provide a fair and uniform standard for tallying the disputed votes.
"Let there be no doubt, while I strongly disagree with the court's decision, I accept it. I
accept the finality of this outcome which will be ratified next Monday in the Electoral College," Gore said.
He becomes the third presidential candidate to receive the largest share of the popular vote while losing the electoral vote. Grover Cleveland in 1888, Samuel Tilden in 1876 and Andrew Jackson in 1824 also lost the presidency. Both Cleveland and Jackson went on to win the presidency four years after their electoral defeats.
The historical significance of this year's unprecedented election wasn't lost upon the vice president, who called on his own supporters to follow tradition and unite behind the nation's next leader.
"Almost a century and a half ago, Senator Stephen Douglas told Abraham Lincoln, who had just defeated him for the presidency: 'Partisan feeling must yield to patriotism,'" Gore said. "Well, in that same spirit, I say to President-elect Bush that what remains of partisan rancor must now be put aside, and may God bless his stewardship of this country."
Although gracious in his televised address that lasted less than 10 minutes, Gore sent the unmistakable message that he felt wronged by the Supreme Court ruling.
By a 5-4 margin, the Supreme Court said the Florida Supreme Court decision violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. Although the justices also ruled that the Florida high court could set uniform standards for a manual recount of undervotes, it allotted no time for such a scenario to be completed before the state's Dec. 12 deadline for choosing presidential electors.
The end of the road
The Supreme Court's ruling was the latest, but final, turning point in the nation's unbearably close election. The justices' involvement in the dispute -- the second in as many weeks -- was set up by a series of events on Friday.
First, two Florida circuit judges rejected absentee ballot challenges from Seminole and Martin counties. While the Gore campaign was not directly involved in those cases, had those challenges been accepted, thousands of Republican votes in Florida could have been thrown out, potentially tipping the state's vote in Gore's favor.
After the circuit court defeats, Mark Fabiani, a spokesman for Gore, said: "Our focus is where it has been all along: Our case is before the Florida Supreme Court. We frankly had no great hopes based on (the cases in Seminole and Martin counties) and we never joined them. We remain confident in our case before the Florida Supreme Court."
That confidence was affirmed later in the day when the state's highest court ruled 4-3 that Circuit Court Judge N. Sanders Sauls erred when he rejected Gore's petition to overturn the certification of Florida's election results, which declared Bush the winner by 537 votes out of nearly six million cast.
The court ordered Sauls to oversee the manual recount of undervotes, but on Friday night he recused himself. Regardless, the counting of the undervotes was near completion in many Florida counties Saturday afternoon when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to intervene at the Bush camp's request.
"Real progress was being made," said spokesman Chris Lehane.
The high court's intervention hit 23 hours after the Florida Supreme Court granted the recounts, abruptly ending the Gore camp's most hopeful of the 35 days since the election.
"Years from now, we'll be telling our grandchildren about this," Gore told reporters outside the official vice president's residence on Saturday.
His presidential prospects swinging from low to high to low, the final four days of the election dispute were a replay of a raucous and unpredictable Election Night for Gore.
Gore's decision to concede Wednesday was a particularly painful moment of political deja vu. He had come within minutes of publicly conceding the presidential election in the early morning hours of Nov. 8. Based on information from network exit polls and his own aides, the vice president thought he had lost Florida by approximately 50,000 votes, called Bush to offer a private concession, and was taken to the site of a post-election rally to make a concession speech.
But Gore aides reached campaign Chairman William Daley and told him that the actual count in Florida had closed to within a few hundred votes. As thousands of Gore supporters waited in the early morning rain in Nashville, it became clear that something was happening within the Gore campaign.
It was. The vice president telephoned Bush to retract his earlier words of concession, which he delivered to Bush when most major news organizations declared Bush the winner. Bush was reportedly not pleased to take the second call.
"Let me make sure I understand," protested Bush, his victory speech in hand. "You're calling me back to retract your concession?"
"You don't have to get snippy about this," Gore protested.
"Let me explain something," Gore continued. "Your younger brother is not the ultimate authority on this." Jeb Bush, the Florida governor and brother of the GOP nominee, had reportedly assured the Texas governor in the wee hours of Wednesday morning that Florida was a done deal.
The Nashville crowd, still waiting for word, was greeted by Daley instead of Gore. "Without being certain of the results in Florida, we simply cannot be certain of the results of the national election," Daley announced shortly after 4 a.m. EST. "I've been in politics a long time, and I don't think there's ever been a night like this one."
But that night was just the beginning of an electoral process that has been unprecedented in more than 100 years. The nation's attention turned to Florida and a month of recounts, ballot challenges, special legislative sessions and lawsuits -- including one that reached the U.S. Supreme Court. But Gore gained few victories along the way, and none of the recounts gave the vice president the votes he needed to overtake Bush.