Texas Gov. George W. Bush claimed victory last night in thepresidential race, after he was certified the winner of Florida's election by537 votes out of nearly 6 million cast.
Vice President Al Gore refused to concede and announced that he would tryto reverse the outcome in court.
"I will work to unite our great land," said Bush, in a five-minutetelevision address from the state Capitol in Austin, Texas. "This has been ahard-fought election, a healthy contest for American democracy. But now thatthe votes are counted, it is time for the votes to count."
He "respectfully" called on Gore to reconsider his plan to contest theelection. A further legal challenge "is not the best route for America," Bushsaid.
Bush moved to make himself the de facto president-elect by requesting thatPresident Clinton allow him to open a transition office in Washington.
"Time runs short and we have a lot of work to do," Bush said.
He said his transition team would be headed by his running mate, formerDefense Secretary Dick Cheney, and that former Transportation Secretary AndrewCard would be his chief of staff.
Bush's request could force Clinton into the awkward position of takingsides in the continuing election fight. Up to now, neither Bush nor Gore hasbeen given the keys to various transition offices around the nation's capital,and the Clinton administration has held off any liaison activities with eithercandidate.
"The election was close. But tonight after a count, a recount and yetanother manual recount, Secretary Cheney and I are honored and humbled to havewon the state of Florida, which gives us the needed electoral votes to win theelection," said Bush, whose margin over Gore in Florida amounted to less thanone one-hundredth of a percentage point.
"We will therefore undertake the responsibility of preparing to serve asAmerica's next president and vice president," added Bush, who did not,however, refer to himself as president-elect.
The 54-year-old Republican spoke in broad terms about his desire to see thenation's political leaders "come together to do the people's business." Herepeated several of his major campaign themes and repeated his intention toreach out to Democrats.
With Congress more evenly divided between the two parties than at any timein nearly a half-century, bipartisanship will be a governing necessity for thenew president. But with Democrats already lining up behind Gore's effort towin the Florida vote in the courts, it will be some time before the two sidescan come together.
Gore plans to address the nation today from Washington, to explain hisdecision to challenge the official count and plead for time. Sen. Joseph I.Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential candidate, said in nationallytelevised remarks that Gore and he had "no choice but to contest" theelection.
Lieberman described the certified result as, "by any reasonable standard... an incomplete and inaccurate count."
The Democrats' hopes for winning the election now seem to depend onpersuading Florida's courts to order a new count of presidential ballots inMiami-Dade County, which aborted its hand recount last week after officialsthere concluded that they could not meet yesterday's 5 p.m. deadline.
Winning Florida's 25 electoral votes would give Bush a total of 271electoral votes. That is one more than the majority needed to claim thepresidency and the second- smallest victory margin since the advent of thetwo-party system in the mid-1800s.
Bush would also become only the third man to win the White House afterlosing the popular vote. Gore currently leads by more than 337,000 votesnationwide, according to the latest unofficial total by the Associated Press.
When Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris pronounced Bush the winnerin a nationally televised signing ceremony, a cheer went up from Bushsupporters outside the Florida state Capitol.
The certified result, which Harris indicated that she considers less properthan the 930-vote margin she would have certified earlier, included newlyrevised counts from 11 counties. Bush gained at least 65 votes from largelyRepublican counties, while Gore picked up 567 from a final hand count inheavily Democratic Broward County.
The total did not include the results of a manual recount in Palm BeachCounty. Earlier in the day, the Republican secretary of state denied a requestfrom the Democratic county board for an extension until 9 a.m. today to finishtheir count. (It was actually completed minutes before her officialannouncement at 7:30 p.m.)
Harris also declined to include the results of the all-but-completerecount, which would have given Gore a net gain of 180 votes.
Moments after Harris spoke, Gore's running mate confirmed that theDemocrats would take advantage of a Florida law that allows the loser tocontest the results of an election.
"What is at issue here is nothing less than every American's simple, sacredright to vote," Lieberman said sternly. "It is in our nation's interest thatthe winner in Florida is truly the person who got the most votes."
Lieberman indicated that the "integrity of our self-government" had been"cast in doubt" because votes "have not yet been counted and clearly shouldbe" while others "have been unjustifiably cast aside."
He and Gore have "an obligation," he said, to the voters and to theConstitution, to seek "a fair and just outcome."
Lieberman acknowledged that the country is "now going through anunprecedented time in American history. The campaign is over. But what we donow will be as important to the future of our country as anything any of usdid during the campaign."
Lieberman concluded with a plea for "the patience to actually count everyvote that was cast."
The Gore campaign chose as the site for Lieberman's speech the venerableHay-Adams Hotel. It is named in part after the grandson of John Quincy Adams,the first and only son of a former president to assume the office.
Bush's campaign launched a sharp attack on Gore, led by former Secretary ofState James A. Baker III, who described the Democrat's decision as"extraordinarily unusual," and demanded "closure."
The Bush adviser said that he understood "the pain and the frustration oflosing an election so very, very narrowly" but that "it is time to let theorderly process of transitioning go forward."
"I don't believe that the people of America want this national electionturned over to lawyers and court contests," said Baker, maintaining that"America has never had a presidential election decided by an election contestin court."
Baker said the Bush campaign would not drop its federal court challenges tothe Florida recount, including the one now before the U.S. Supreme Court. Andhe said the Bush campaign might contest elements of the Florida count "as adefensive measure."
Gore's decision to contest the election appeared to have won at leastinitial support from the leaders of his party. The top Democrats in Congress,Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and House Minority LeaderRichard A. Gephardt of Missouri, will fly to Florida today and publiclyendorse Gore's decision not to concede.
Republicans, meanwhile, rallied behind Bush and called on Gore to give uphis court fight.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said Gore should concede "for the good ofthe country." House Republican Whip Tom DeLay of Texas said that Gore's actioncould "only be viewed as an abuse of the legal system and an attempt to defyour constitutional system of government."
Gore's challenge could stretch out a final resolution of the Floridaelection for a week or longer, as the clock ticks toward the Dec. 12 deadlinefor the state to officially appoint its electors.
David Boies, chief lawyer for the Gore campaign in Florida, said the vicepresident would ask that 10,000 uncounted ballots from Miami-Dade County alsobe examined. Those computerized ballots were rejected in the machine counts,which only tallied ballots in which the chad was punched out.
Gore will also demand that the Palm Beach recount be included in theofficial tally. He also plans to ask for court review of the actions of theNassau County canvassing board, which may have cost Gore 51 votes.
Gore and Lieberman must make final decisions on other potential elements oftheir contest petition, including whether to protest the butterfly ballot inPalm Beach County, Boies added.
"Until these votes are counted, this election cannot be over," said Boies."There are thousands of votes that haven't been counted once."
It is "critically important," Boies said, that if Gore actually receivedthe most votes in Florida, his election "not be nullified because some ofthose votes are not counted."
Gore's contest will go forward even if he loses in the U.S. Supreme Court,Boies said. The justices have agreed to hear Bush's appeal of the FloridaSupreme Court ruling, which ordered Harris to include the results of themanual recounts in her official certification.
Boies said it was "a little unclear" whether the U.S. Supreme Court coulddo anything in that case that would interfere with Florida's process forchallenging an election result.
Even before the official results were announced, both candidates sent outleading members of their parties to argue their case.
Florida's senior Democrat, Sen. Bob Graham, asked his state, and the restof the country, to give Gore time to keep his challenge alive. He said it isimportant to make sure that the Florida result is seen as fair, so that eitherGore or Bush would have "the legitimacy to be an effective president for thepeople of the United States and of the world."
Graham, one of the finalists to be Gore's running mate, tried to play downthe extraordinary lengths to which the vice president is going to keep hischances alive. The senator portrayed the legal challenge to the certifiedresult as "the last period of the election process in Florida."
Completing that process, added Graham, would "assure that all of theremaining clouds over this election are resolved," so that whoever takes theoath of office on Jan. 20 "will be a fully credible president."
Another Democrat, former Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, said, however, thathe thought the final result of the 2000 election "is going to besecond-guessed for the next century."
Among the Republicans who said that Gore should abandon any further legalchallenge was Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, aTexas Republican, said Gore should concede so that Bush could "go forward inthe interest of the country."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun