Hour by hour, the outcome gets more uncertain
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000
On an extraordinary night in an extraordinary election, Florida kept the election for president hanging in the balance.
For a few short minutes, it appeared clear that Republican George W. Bush defeated Vice President Al Gore in Florida and won the presidency.
About 2:20 a.m., Republican George W. Bush was declared the winner of the state's 25 electoral votes, and the presidency, by the television networks.
In Austin, Texas, the crowds started cheering. Gore telephoned Bush to concede, and the television networks announced Gore would soon be arriving to speak to his supporters in Nashville.
By 3 a.m., Bush's lead in Florida had been cut to several hundred votes. The Florida Secretary of State's Office reported that 99.7 percent of the precincts had been counted, and the difference was less than one-tenth of 1 percent.
At 3:11 a.m. the Associated Press alerted its members that it "believes the uncounted votes in Broward and Palm Beach counties could allow a change of the lead in the Florida vote. We are watching the resolution of the actual vote count to assure if there is a change in the Florida results, which could yet have an impact on the outcome of the presidential election."
At 3:27 a.m., CBS' Dan Rather announced there was a difference of just 629 votes between Bush and Gore in Florida.
A few minutes later, Attorney General Bob Butterworth, Gore's state chairman, told the St. Petersburg Times that he believed the difference was less than 500 votes and that several thousand ballots were left to count, including ballots in heavily Democratic Broward County. In the meantime, television reports said elections officials were preparing to recount five precincts in Miami-Dade County.
By 3:30 a.m., the crowd of Gore supporters were chanting, "Recount!"
By 3:45 a.m., Gore called Bush back and retracted his concession.
Butterworth, closely monitoring the Florida results, said neither Gore nor Bush should be making any speeches.
"I don't think Gore should make any concession," he said. "I don't think George W. should make a speech right now because he might not be winning."
In Tallahassee, Clay Roberts, the head of the state Division of Elections, said that all Miami-Dade County ballots had been counted. "We're waiting for some ballots from Broward," Roberts said.
At 3:56 a.m. the Associated Press reported that Bush communications director Karen Hughes said Gore had called Bush back.
"He called an hour ago to concede," Hughes said. "He just called us back to retract that concession."
Shortly before 4 a.m., television networks moved Florida back into the undecided column.
Butterworth predicted it would take until mid afternoon to work through the recount. In Austin, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was on the computer himself and reviewing the Web site for the Florida of Division of Elections.
About 4:08 a.m., Gore campaign manager William Daley addressed the crowd standing in the rain in Nashville.
"As everyone knows in America," Daley told the crowd, "this race has come down to the state of Florida. Without being certain of the results in Florida, we cannot be certain of the results in this national election."
Daley said Gore and running mate Joseph Lieberman would concede if the results indicated Bush had won. But he said, "Until the results in Florida become official, our campaign continues. . . . I hope to see you back here very soon."
The crowd roared and went home.
At 4:08 a.m. in Austin, Bush campaign chairman Don Evans addressed the crowd.
"When it is all said and done,"Evans said, "we will prevail."
The early morning drama was only the latest flip-flop involving the contest in Florida.
By 7:50 p.m., less than one hour after the polls closed in Florida, MSNBC, five television networks (ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox and NBC) and the Associated Press news service called Florida for Gore based on exit polls by Voter News Service, based mainly on exit poll interviews.
"That was too early," Butterworth said later.
The Bush entourage, including the candidate, his wife and daughters, his parents, and Jeb, were having dinner at the Shoreline Grill in downtown Austin, and had announced plans to watch election returns together at the adjoining Four Seasons Hotel. But at dinner the family got the bad news about Florida.
Afterward Bush, his wife and parents returned to the Governor's Mansion, leaving the rest of the family, including Jeb, behind.
About 9:30 p.m.: Bush told reporters he still expected to prevail in Florida: "I don't believe some of these states that they (news organizations) called, like Florida."
At 9:55 p.m., Sid Bedingfield, the executive vice president of CNN/US, makes the decision -- amid much shouting in the network's Atlanta control room -- to move Florida back into the too-close-to-call category, some two hours after the networks had handed it to Gore. Other networks and media outlets followed soon after.
"Some suspect data was discovered," Rather said.
A crowd of thousands of Bush supporters, watching on a large-screen television set up at a street party in front of the Texas Capitol, roared in delight as Florida was declared still in play.
It turned out it would remain in play longer than anyone imagined.
-- Staff writers Bill Adair and Mary Jacoby contributed to this report.
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From the Times election desk
From the AP