Holding on to hope

The Gore campaign stresses the vice president's victory in the popular vote -- and hints at possible challenges.

By Alicia Montgomery

Published November 9, 2000 12:01AM (EST)

The morning after telling his Republican rival, Gov. George W. Bush, that there was no need "to get snippy," Vice President Al Gore finally appeared for a brief, staged appearance Wednesday, conceding nothing, and stressing his apparent victory in the nation's popular vote.

Gore had conceded to Bush after all the networks gave Florida's essential 25 electoral votes to the Texas governor at 1:17 a.m. Central time. Gore phoned Bush to congratulate him sometime between 1:30 a.m. and 1:45 a.m.

A few minutes later, Gore was in his motorcade, making his way from the Loews hotel to Nashville's War Memorial Plaza, where Gore would tell his supporters the bad news.

Then Gore's field director, Michael Whouley, frantically paged his traveling chief of staff, Mike Feldman. Gore was behind in Florida by only 6,000 votes, Whouley told Feldman. More votes still needed to be counted. They were only two blocks away from the War Memorial.

Feldman buzzed Gore campaign chairman William Daley to tell him the news. Two blocks later, Gore was down by only 1,000 votes. They all convened in the holding room at the War Memorial. What to do?

An aide named David Morehouse rushed into the holding room.

"It's closer than we thought," he said. About 10 minutes later, another aide, Greg Simon, said, "It's down to 500 votes in Florida."

Gore and his campaign then holed up in their hotel suites and didn't appear again until Wednesday afternoon, when Gore and Joe Lieberman appeared to make an official statement. It was a stately appearance -- a marked contrast with Bush's leisurely televised appearance with reporters during lunch -- and it seemed designed to stay above the controversy while leaving open the possibility for strategic wrangling

"Yesterday the people of our country joined together to make a great national decision to choose the next president of the United States," Gore said. "We still don't know the outcome of yesterday's vote, and I realize that this is an extraordinary moment for our democracy."

The vice president declared that he would not challenge the result of the election if Bush wins Florida's electoral votes, even if Gore remains the winner of the popular vote. "Under our Constitution, it is the winner of the Electoral College who will be the next president," Gore said. "The Constitution is the whole foundation of our freedom and must be followed faithfully." Nonetheless, the vice president mentioned more than once that he had won the popular vote. Near the beginning of his statement, Gore said, "Joe Lieberman and I want to thank the nearly 50 million Americans who gave us their votes and confidence." That point was repeated by other Gore representatives, including Daley. Spokesmen Chris Lehane and Mark Fabiani had also repeatedly mentioned the popular-vote edge in comments earlier in the day.

Though the margin has narrowed since last night, tallies still show that Gore won 48,976,134 to Bush's 48,783,509, a difference of slightly fewer than 200,000 votes. However, the vice president insisted the vote had to be resolved "expeditiously but deliberately, without any rush to judgment." Though Gore only addressed the accuracy of the count, allegations have arisen in some Florida communities that there were other problems with the vote. Some Palm Beach County residents have complained that the design of the ballot confused them and led them to cast ballots for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan. And civil rights leader Jesse Jackson suggested that misconduct had also lowered the numbers for Gore in Florida, alleging that voters, "particularly those in minority communities," had been victims of intimidation and fraud on Election Day.

Though Daley said he and a team of Democratic advisors would be traveling to Florida to oversee the recount, he spoke cautiously about charges of voting irregularities. "Some may turn out to be bogus, some may turn out to be very serious," he said. But he denied that the Democratic Party would delay the process of resolution. "No one is trying to drag anything out."

Daley continued to express confidence that Gore would be declared the winner after the Florida recount, and said the vice president shared his sentiment that victory would come without further legal action. However, in earlier remarks, Lehane would not rule out the possibility of legal action should reports of voting irregularities persist. His repeated mantra to reporters: "We need to let the legal process take its course." Before the Gore statement, Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., suggested that the best resolution could be a runoff election between Bush and Gore in that state. Nothing said in the vice president's press conference either addressed or challenged Kerrey's proposal.

Alicia Montgomery

Alicia Montgomery is an associate editor in Salon's Washington bureau.

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