St. Petersburg Times Online: Election 2000
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A night the Bushes won't forget

While eating dinner Tuesday, the family heard that Gore had won Florida. An "emotionally intense evening'' followed, Gov. Jeb Bush says.


© St. Petersburg Times, published November 9, 2000

TALLAHASSEE -- The Bush family always gathers on election night -- in victory and in defeat.

Tuesday was no exception. During dinner at the Shoreline Grille in Austin, Texas, the television delivered the news: Vice President Al Gore was the Florida winner.

The announcement hit Florida Gov. Jeb Bush like a fighter's punch to the gut.

"I decided after, frankly, apologizing to my brother, that I didn't do what I hoped I would be able to do -- along with a lot of other people -- which is to help him carry the state. "So I decided to start making phone calls around to talk radio in Sacramento, and Seattle and Oregon and other places where the polls were still open, to urge people to vote for my brother in those states, where, clearly, it could have made a difference. "And then, somehow, the results were overturned."

Jeb Bush then spent "one of the most amazing and emotionally intense evenings of my life."

As the hours wore on, he watched his brother's political future, as well as his own, unfold.

"It was a very emotional time," Jeb Bush said Wednesday. "I hope I'll never have to go through an evening like I did again. "For my father, this is the most difficult of all elections, I'm sure. He and my mom are parents first, and this is a field of endeavor they know something about."

During the campaign, he said, "My mother decided to have a press-free zone in the house -- no reading of papers and no news. "And my dad decided to do the exact opposite. So, for the first time in 54 years of marriage, they were about ready to separate because of this! They found a technological solution to the problem: wireless earphones, so my dad could hear it. He would be sitting there going "Aargh!' at Katie Couric, and she would be there reading or doing something else.

"From the beginning, I've always said Florida would be a hard-fought state. Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be this close."

With only an hour's sleep, a red-eyed Jeb Bush returned to Florida. Just after 4 p.m., he faced the largest media frenzy to hit Tallahassee since he became governor, with reporters from all over the world there to hear what he had to say. They lined the walls and crouched on the floor of a conference room next to his office in the state Capitol.

"More reporters than we usually have, isn't it?" he joked to the tense throng.

It isn't over yet, he told reporters. I'm proud of my brother, he said. We worked hard. We all worked hard.

Florida Democrats were quick to pounce on the photo finish as evidence that the state's popular governor isn't as powerful as he seems.

"There's a lot more doubt in his political future today than there was on Monday," said Florida Democratic spokesman Tony Welch. "I think you'll see a lot more Democrats weighing challenging Gov. Jeb Bush. This shows a lot. This is not delivering your state."

Republicans, predictably, downplayed the political drama:

"I think all anybody's going to remember is the final result, and the final result is that George Bush is going to carry Florida," predicted state Sen. Jack Latvala of Palm Harbor, the Senate's Republican majority leader. "With his brother as president, he's going to be as strong -- or stronger -- than he has been."

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