Al Gore surrendered his battle for the White House, accepting George W. Bush as the 43rd president of the United States. "I accept the finality of this outcome," the vice president said Wednesday night.
In a valedictory from the ceremonial office at the White House he will vacate, Gore signaled some of the bitter reluctance to concede defeat that propelled his 36-day legal battle for Florida ballot recounts.
"Now the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken. Let there be no doubt," Gore said. "While I strongly disagree with the court's position, I accept it."
He called for his supporters to unite behind his Republican rival Bush.
"We close ranks when the contest is done," Gore said.
"While we yet hold, and do not yield, our opposing beliefs, there is a higher duty than the one we owe to political party. This is America and we put country before party," Gore said. "We will stand together behind our new president."
Standing behind Gore in the ornate White House office were his wife, Tipper, their four children, running mate Sen. Joseph Lieberman and his family.
Gore recognized that the 50 million voters who cast their ballots for Gore-Lieberman on Nov. 7 were disappointed. "I am too. Our disappointment must be overcome by our love of country," he said from an armored presidential lectern missing its presidential seal.
Gore spoke minutes after telephoning his congratulations to Bush in the Texas governor's mansion and made a weak joke about the Election night drama in which Gore called Bush twice, once to concede, once to retract.
"I promised him that I wouldn't call him back this time," Gore said in the nationally televised address.
The rivals are to meet on Tuesday in Washington, a man-to-man summit meant to pull the deeply divided nation together after an unprecedented court battle over the White House.
Gore, a senator's son and 16-year veteran of Congress, said he didn't know what comes next for him after 24 years in public office.
Clinton telephoned from Northern Ireland minutes after news broke Wednesday morning that Gore was giving up. The two political partners had grown apart during the campaign, in which the vice president labored to distance himself from Clinton's personal scandals.
More than 103 million Americans who went to the polls on Nov. 7 gave Gore a lead of about 330,000 over Bush.
The U.S. Supreme Court pushed Gore from his overtime struggle for an electoral majority when it ruled late Tuesday that further recounts in Florida could not meet constitutional muster in time for the Dec. 18 Electoral College vote.
Aides said Gore was grappling for the right words to help pull a deeply divided nation together, and to justify his dogged legal fight in Florida to see "that every vote is counted and counted accurately."
"In his heart, I don't think he wants to stop," said Rep. Peter Deutsch, D-Fla., who regularly campaigned at Gore's side in the state that ultimately gave Bush his 271-267 electoral margin.
One adviser close to Gore said he was writing the speech "on a clean slate," using none of the words that he had prepared to deliver on election night. This adviser described Gore incorporating advice from his daughters and brother-in-law Frank Hunger, then dictating to speechwriter Eli Attie.
In a twist of holiday timing, Gore had to push his nationally televised concession to 9 p.m. in his ceremonial office at the Old Executive Office Building at the White House. The vice presidential mansion at the Naval Observatory, was overrun between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. by a long-scheduled Christmas party.
Guest Liz Benson said Tipper Gore introduced her husband as "a man I'm very, very, very proud of." The vice president, Benson added, put his hand over his heart and thanked supporters. "No tears, but yeah, a lot of emotion from deep down," Benson told a reporter.
Gore privately conceded to Bush once before, in the wee hours of Nov. 8. But as the Florida vote appeared less certain, Gore called the Texas governor back to retract the concession, touching off the unthinkable election contest.
Aides who worked nearly two years on Gore's presidential campaign betrayed on Wednesday, in not-for-attribution remarks and casual asides, their bitterness about a split Supreme Court ruling they viewed as partisan and about Republican advantages they saw as stacked against them.
Gore had mounted his recount in a state where Bush's brother, Jeb, is governor and the Republican secretary of state who certified Bush's victory was also co-chairwoman of his Florida campaign.
Outside the residence, where Gore was with wife and their four children, two of whom hastened from homes out of town, a lone supporter held a "Gore 2004" sign.
Gore must leave the house before Republican Dick Cheney is sworn in as his replacement on Jan. 20. For the eight years they lived there, the Gores loaned brother-in-law Frank Hunger the Arlington, Va., home where Tipper Gore grew up and they raised their own family.
Associates said Gore, 52, had been so focused on the five weeks of legal wrangling that he never spoke, out loud, at least, about where his life might turn in defeat. Aboard Air Force Two one September night, the one-time newspaper reporter mused about maybe being "a writer of some kind."
Some who know him well speculated he might turn to academia. Both Princeton and Harvard, his alma mater, will have vacancies at the helm next year.
Whether Gore, a senator's son soon to be out of public office for the first time in 24 years, would or could try a third time for the White House in four years was an open question.
"That is several lifetimes in politics," said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D. "There are lots of other capable people who, no doubt, will step forward. Certainly this was his best chance."
Gore made his first grab at the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988 when he was just 39. This year, he ran as vice president and defeated his only primary competitor, former Sen. Bill Bradley.
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