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Uneasy mood in Austin flips as votes do

By MARY JACOBY

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000


AUSTIN -- It was only 9 p.m., and crowds were streaming out of George W. Bush's big election night bash near the state Capitol. The trends looked bad. Florida, according to CNN, had gone for Vice President Al Gore. Michigan and Pennsylvania, too.

The candidate himself had abruptly cut short a restaurant dinner with his extended family to return home to the Texas governor's mansion. The election that was supposed to be too close to call seemed as if it might be over before bedtime.

Then, the pendulum swung back to Bush.

CNN reversed course and put Florida back into the "too close to call" category. Missouri and New Hampshire were announced for Bush. The crowd watched on big TV screens as CNN adjusted Bush's electoral vote tally upward, from 201 to 212. Cheers, shouts and the rock band started back up. People were staying to dance.

Sitting next to his wife and parents in the library of the governor's mansion, the former President George Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush, the Texas governor told the cable network his advisers believed that many states were in play.

"I don't believe some of these states that they called, like Florida," he said.

Bush also said he had been on the phone with Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, a Republican whom he had considered for his running mate. Ridge, Bush said, also was not convinced that Pennslyvania had gone for Gore, as television news was predicting.

With his suit coat off and wearing a white shirt and red tie, Bush seemed confident that the night was not going so bad. But earlier, he had left a restaurant near the Four Seasons hotel, where he had planned to watch election returns in a suite, after less than an hour, abruptly returning to the governor's mansion. "He preferred to be at home," an aide said.

Earlier in the day, unusually cold winds swept through the avenues of the Texas capitol Tuesday as Bush settled in with friends and family to await the verdict of the voters.

Rainy gusts caused canvas tents set up for an election-night party near the Capitol building to billow like sails. But the Republican candidate pronounced himself at peace amid the tempest.

"Calm," he told reporters who inquired after his emotional state Tuesday morning. Bush had invited journalists into his office at the governor's mansion to watch as he made last-minute phone calls to people in battleground states, asking for their vote.

Members of his family, though, were biting their nails. "I'm nervous but excited," Bush's sister, Dorothy Bush Koch, said as she arrived at the Four Seasons hotel, where the family was staying.

"I called my parents first thing when I woke up to assure them that I feel pretty good. They're nervous," Bush said. Bush's parents came to Austin from their home in Houston.

After a last frenzy of campaigning in four states, Bush arrived in Austin late Monday, where he was greeted by a boisterous airport rally. He said he slept about five hours and awoke at 6 a.m. He made coffee and brought a cup to Laura.

By mid-morning, the Bushes had cast their votes at the Travis County Courthouse near their home, the governor's mansion. Bush returned to his office there to make the get-out-the-vote phone calls, including one to a man in Orlando.

"The people are going to decide. And I trust the people," Bush said. "We've done all we can do."

Throughout the day friends and supporters of the Texas governor filtered into the Four Seasons, where they milled about the lobby, chatting nervously.

"I get a good feeling because people are so energized everywhere we go. I don't think they're going to let us down," said Dorothy Bush, the candidate's sister who is known as Doro.

El Paso Mayor Carlos M. Ramirez, one of Bush's Democratic supporters, said the Bush campaign had called him to Austin on Monday to help with last-minute get-out-the-vote efforts targeting Hispanics.

"But today we're here to celebrate," Ramirez said.

Also joining the election night vigil were Bush's twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara, who are freshmen in college; and brothers Neil and Marvin.

The other brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, arrived in Austin not long before television news organizations began calling Florida for Vice President Al Gore.

Two visiting West Central Floridians were among the crowd. Bill Appleby of Spring Hill, who is emergency management director for Hernando County, and his counterpart for Polk County, David Cash, were in town for a conference. They had cast absentee ballots for Bush.

"We're very interested because we both live in the Tampa Bay area," Appleby said, referring to the region's reputation as a swing area where voters can go with either party.

"And everything we've heard is, how Tampa Bay goes, the state of Florida goes, and the nation goes," Appleby said shortly before news organizations began predicting a Gore win in the state.

Into the late hours of the night, however, it wasn't clear if Appleby and Cash had backed a winner.

- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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