'We will stand together behind our new president.'
By BILL ADAIR
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 14, 2000
WASHINGTON -- In a poignant end to an extraordinary election, Vice President Al Gore on Wednesday conceded the presidency to Texas Gov. George W. Bush and vowed to help his Republican rival unite the nation.
"This is America," Gore said. "Just as we fight hard when the stakes are high, we close ranks and come together when the contest is done."
In a deeply personal speech that came, incredibly, five weeks after Election Day, Gore offered the nation something it had desperately wanted: closure.
His words came 23 hours after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked his recount effort in Florida and doomed his chances to win the presidency.
"Let there be no doubt, while I strongly disagree with the court's decision, I accept it. I accept the finality of this outcome which will be ratified next Monday in the Electoral College. And tonight, for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession."
Gore spoke from an ornate room at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House. His running mate Joe Lieberman and their families stood silently beside him during the seven-minute speech. At one point, Lieberman clutched Tipper Gore's hand.
Millions of Americans watched the nationally televised speech to see if Gore would seek to bridge the partisan chasm that has widened since the Nov. 7 election. He appeared to rise to the occasion.
He quoted Sen. Stephen Douglas' concession to Abraham Lincoln, that "Partisan feeling must yield to patriotism. I'm with you, Mr. President, and God bless you."
Gore said, "In that same spirit, I say to President-elect Bush that what remains of partisan rancor must now be put aside, and may God bless his stewardship of this country."
Gore and Bush plan to meet in Washington next week in a symbolic effort to begin the healing.
That won't be easy. For all the graciousness of both men, the nation is divided and still smarting over an election that was disputed and will stand as one of the closest in American history.
The anger was evident this week in front of the Supreme Court, as the justices heard arguments in the case of Bush vs. Gore, which became the final act in the tumultuous 2000 election.
A Gore supporter carried a sign that said "Bush's Fascist Thugs." Some Gore partisans booed and blew whistles to drown out Theodore Olson, Bush's attorney, during a TV interview. Bush supporters waved signs that said "Wanted: Al Gore, Election Thief." One woman with a megaphone shouted at the Democrats, "Liberal hacks! Liberal hacks!"
But Gore urged his supporters to join him uniting the country. He said he realized he has a responsibility "to honor the new president-elect and do everything possible to help him bring Americans together in fulfillment of the great vision that our Declaration of Independence defines and that our Constitution affirms and defends."
Gore said he was unsure of his plans for the future, but joked that he would return to his home state of Tennessee, which he lost in the election, "and mend some fences -- literally and figuratively."
As he climbed into his limousine after the speech, several hundred supporters chanted "Gore in four! Gore in four!"
Wednesday's concession was not the vice president's first.
He called Bush and offered his congratulations early on Nov. 8, after the television networks projected Bush had won Florida and, therefore, the election. Gore departed for War Memorial Plaza in Nashville to give his concession to thousands of supporters.
But as he arrived, aides found out Gore was trailing by only a few hundred votes in Florida. Gore called Bush again and retracted his concession. Bush said he was stunned that he would retract his concession, which prompted Gore's now-famous comment to the Texas governor: "You don't have to get snippy about this."
In his speech Wednesday night, Gore jokingly referred to that conversation to emphasize that he was fully conceding to Bush: "Just moments ago, I spoke with George W. Bush and congratulated him on becoming the 43rd president of the United States -- and I promised him that I wouldn't call him back this time."
Gore offered some delicately worded comments that seemed intended for loyal Democrats, saying he was committed to helping the downtrodden.
He said he had one big regret about not becoming president: "That I didn't get the chance to stay and fight for the American people over the next four years, especially for those who need burdens lifted and barriers removed, especially for those who feel their voices have not been heard. I heard you and I will not forget."
For 36 days since the election, Gore directed an extraordinary recount effort, immersing himself in the Florida election law and the rules of presidential electors. People who spoke with him said they were amazed at his grasp of the most arcane details.
The entire effort was designed to get Gore to the White House, but he rarely visited his White House office in the past month. He spent most days at his home at the Naval Observatory in Washington, emerging every day or so to give reporters fresh comments on the importance of counting all the votes in Florida.
Wednesday morning, some Democrats urged Gore and his advisers not to concede. Reps. Peter Deutsch, Carrie Meek and Alcee Hastings of South Florida said Gore still had a small opening to prevail in the Florida Supreme Court.
"There is a clear path to success for Al Gore to become president," said Deutsch, D-Fort Lauderdale. He said some people "in the vice president's office want it to be over, that want to go back to being lobbyists or whatever. But we represent real people" who want all the votes counted.
But after conference calls with his lawyers and campaign aides Wednesday morning, Gore rejected the idea of making another run at the Florida court. He told his staff in Tallahassee to pack up and return to Washington. The Florida recount battle was over.
At 8:55 p.m., he called the president-elect and congratulated him.
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