OTD in History… December 13, 2000, Democratic nominee Al Gore concedes presidential election to victor Republican George W Bush
By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS
On this day in history December 13, 2000, Vice President and Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore finally conceded the 2000 presidential election to his Republican opponent Texas Governor George W. Bush, 36 days after Election Day. In the evening, Gore delivered his concession speech followed by Bush, who gave his acceptance speech. In a televised address, Gore expressed, “I accept the finality of the 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.” In his acceptance, speech delivered an hour later, Bush promised, “I was not elected to serve one party, but to serve one nation,” and “The President of the United States is the President of every single American, of every race, and every background.” Gore won the popular vote by a half a million votes but lost Florida giving Bush 271 votes to win the Electoral College to Gore’s 266.
The 2000 presidential campaign between Gore and his running Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bush and his running mate for Secretary of Defense Richard (Dick) Cheney of Wyoming was relatively boring until Election Day. The nominees’ personality differences were one of the major issues in the campaign and in the last polls, Bush was leading slightly it was a dead heat between Bush and Gore. On election night, the TV news prematurely called Florida for Gore, which resulted in a 36-day legal battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States, which finally decided the election in Bush’s favor. The 2000 election became the fourth time in American history where the winning candidate lost the popular vote, it was the closest election since the controversial 1876 election decided by the House of Representatives and the first time the Supreme Court decided the results of a presidential election. As Christine Heppermann noted in her book, Bush v. Gore, The Florida Recounts of the 2000 Presidential Election, “This fight for the nation’s highest office would ultimately be decided in the nation’s highest court in a landmark case that would ~ make history.” (Heppermann, 11)
On election night, November 7, Gore was leading in the popular vote by a half a million; however, the electoral votes were even closer, with neither candidate receiving a majority of 270 in the Electoral College. The election depended on Florida’s 25 electoral votes, which would have taken either candidate beyond the 270 mark. The numbers fluctuated all evening and into the early night. Voter exit polls indicated a lead for Gore, and many TV news sources called the election for Gore based on early returns. The count shifted in Bush’s favor, and at 2:16 a.m., TV networks were calling Florida and the election for Bush, prompting Gore to concede by phone to Bush. An hour later when Bush’s lead narrowed, Gore called Bush again this time to withdraw his concession. Tom Brokaw the anchor for The NBC Evening News later remarked about the media mistaken call of the election, “We don’t just have egg on our face, we have an omelet on our suits.” (Heppermann, 11)
The Florida vote was close enough to trigger the law for an automatic statewide recount, which gave Bush the state by less than 300 votes. The Gore campaign discovered that there had been balloting errors in the three critical counties in the state and demanded a hand recount. Bush campaign opposed the recount. A month ensued of disagreements about recounting the votes; filled with press conferences, lawsuits, court hearings, and demonstrations. Gore argued that in four counties, Broward, Miami Dade, Palm Beach, and Volusia there were errors in the punch ballots “butterfly ballots” caused by faulty voting machines, and that there thousands of legitimate votes that were discarded as a result of the machine’s error and if those votes were counted it would alter the election’s outcome.
The controversial votes were in counties where Gore had been leading; Katherine Harris, a Bush supporter, campaign worker and Florida Secretary of State refused to authorize the recount or extend the deadline to report the vote count beyond November 14. On November 15, Gore appealed to the Florida Supreme Court. On November 21, the Florida Supreme Court unanimously sided with Gore, required the recount to continue, and extended the deadline to November 26. Two of the counties commenced their recounts, but in Miami-Dade halted the recounts after pressure from “militant Republican demonstrators” and just resubmitted their originals counts claiming otherwise they would miss the deadline, and Palm Beach County missed the recount deadline.
On November 26, Harris and the state canvassing board certified Bush the winner of the state’s electoral votes, by 537 votes over Gore. Gore and the Democrats contested the results in Florida’s Supreme Court. On December 7, the Florida Supreme Court held a hearing and heard arguments from both sides counsel, and on December 8, who voted in four to three in Gore’s favor and ordered that the over 70,000 uncounted ballots in the 67 counties be reviewed in a hand count.
Republicans immediately appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court claiming the recount violated Bush the 14th amendment’s equal protection of the laws. The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on December 11 for Bush v. Gore. On December 12, the Supreme Court issued their final decision in Bush vs. Gore, in a 5–4 ruling they halted the recount, on grounds that the there was no uniform standard to determine what was the intention of the voters in question and the recount was unconstitutional. Additionally, recounts could not be completed by the December 12 “safe harbor” deadline and prior to the December 18 Electoral College vote, and therefore the certified vote would be upheld.
Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin in his book, Too Close to Call, The Thirty-Six-Day Battle to Decide the 2000 Election, found that the recount effort was part of the campaign and the reason Gore lost was he did not capitalize on the extra campaign days. Toobin explains, “A more useful way of thinking about this election, and understanding the final result is to recognize that the campaign simply continued for more than a month after Election Day. The thirty-six-day battle was fought using many familiar tools, including speech making, image management, crowd building, and lobbying. The Bush campaign not only recognized this reality; its leaders did a great deal to create it. The Democrats treated the recount in a different way — as a discrete event, separate from the race for the White House. It was this fundamental difference in orientation that contributed most to George W. Bush’s victory.” (Toobin, 25–26) Most legal scholars opposed the Supreme Court unprecedented presidential election decision making.
The election was Gore’s to lose and he did. The Vice President chose to distance himself from the still popular President Bill Clinton because of his scandal and impeachment over Clinton’s affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The economy was booming, there were a budget surplus and low unemployment but Gore did not take advantage of Clinton’s record or popularity enough. During the recount, Gore did not play the media game right and continue to consider the time as an extended campaign for the presidency. In an election where the House of Representatives, Senate and presidency were all in play it was a close call nearly virtual ties in all three races and the Republicans came out the victors. Bush would go on to win a second term in 2004. After his quick response to the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, he saw the highest approval ratings in history. After the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq dragged on, mistakes in his response to Hurricane Katrina and an economic crash, Bush left office the least popular president after Harry Truman in the post-World War II period.
SOURCES AND READ MORE
Brinkley, Douglas. 36 Days: The Complete Chronicle of the 2000 Presidential Election Crisis. New York: Times Books/Henry, Holt and Company, 2001.
Ceaser, James W, and Andrew Busch. The Perfect Tie: The True Story of the 2000 Presidential Elections. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001.
Dershowitz, Alan M. Supreme Injustice: How the High Court Hijacked Election 2000. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Heppermann, Christine, and Richard D. Friedman. Bush V. Gore: The Florida Recounts of the 2000 Presidential Election. Minneapolis, MN: ABDO Pub, 2013.
Posner, Richard A. Breaking the Deadlock: The 2000 Election, the Constitution, and the Courts. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 2001.
Toobin, Jeffrey. Too Close to Call: The Thirty-Six-Day Battle to Decide the 2000 Election. New York, NY: Random House, 2002.
Troy, Gil, Arthur M. Schlesinger, and Fred L. Israel. History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–2008. New York: Facts On File, 2012.
Bonnie K. Goodman has a BA and MLIS from McGill University and has done graduate work in religion at Concordia University. She is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor, and a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion, and news. She has over a dozen years of experience in education & political journalism.