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Breaking News

Election 2000: Race Hinges on Florida Vote Recount

Aired November 8, 2000 - 5:59 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it is almost 6:00 a.m. on the East Coast, we've got 5:59 a.m. Eastern time right now and that would make it 2:59 on the West Coast. This is Wednesday, the day after, November 8, this morning.

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: And what a day it is. From the CNN center in Atlanta this is EARLY EDITION.

HARRIS: Good morning, folks, I'm Leon Harris.

LIN: And I'm Carol Lin. Well, welcome to our post-election coverage. It's still a toss-up.

HARRIS: It's been an incredible night. The nation's voters went to bed last night not knowing exactly who won the presidential election, and they're going to wake up that way as well. Same thing happened to those who have been covering this all.

I think it's been exactly some 12 hours since the first polls closed and still, at this moment, the race between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush remains too close to call.

LIN: So close. This has never been seen before; the confusion comes from the sunshine state. Early this morning it appeared Bush had sealed the deal in Florida, but now, with only hundreds of votes separating the candidates, a recount is expected and the outcome will determine who take Florida's decisive 25 electoral votes.

Let's take a look at, in fact, how the Electoral College is breaking now. Right now one candidate need 270 electoral votes to win. Gore is at 249, Bush at 246.

HARRIS: Now, as for the popular vote, let's take a look at that because that presents something of a surprise. Going into last night, many people believed the scenario would break down with George W. Bush an Vice President Al Gore possibly taking the electoral vote -- and look what happened last night: It turned around the exact opposite way; Vice President Gore coming in with 49 percent of the popular vote, George W. Bush, the governor of Texas, coming in with 48 percent, and that is with CNN looking at 98 percent of all the precincts reporting.

LIN: Now, although the race is still up in the air, one thing the next president can know for sure, he will be working with a Republican-controlled Congress. We will have much more on that later.

But right now we want to take a closer look at the vote in Florida: still too close to call. With 100 percent of the precincts reporting in, Bush has 49 percent of the vote; Al Gore, 49 percent of the vote with less than 1,000 votes making the difference between the two candidates. Talk about every vote counts in this time around.

HARRIS: When we think how close was that -- some folks who went to bed early last night might have seen the projections showing Vice President Gore winning that state, and it's flip-flopped now twice in the last, what, 11 hours or so.

LIN: That's right; in fact, Al Gore had actually made a telephone call to George W. Bush, conceding the race, only to take that call back when they realized, many more absentee ballots to be counted as well as, now, the military's votes, absentee votes coming in from overseas.

HARRIS: That's right; now, there were also some other states that -- only a couple others that were still too close to call from last night. One of those was the state of Oregon. Let's take a look at the results from that particular state. And as you see there, we're looking at 74 percent of all the precincts reporting.

George W. Bush, the governor of Texas, once again, we have him at 49 percent of the vote in Oregon and Vice President Al Gore at 46 percent. Of course, that could change as the rest of those precincts' reports come in.

LIN: That's right. Interesting, there, because people, for the first time actually did not physically go to the polls. It was a 100 percent mail-in ballot, so they're still counting those as well.

HARRIS: That's the reason why it's going to take a while.

Now, earlier in the night it looked like the presidency did have Bush's name all over it; and joining us, now, to talk about this false alarm, if you will, CNN's Jeanne Meserve. She's standing by in Austin, Texas this morning.

Jeanne, take it away.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Leon, you know, if this was the plot in a novel we'd all brand it absolutely unbelievable. It's hard to imagine the emotional ups and downs these campaigns have been through last night and through into this morning.

As you know, Florida was first called for Al Gore; Mark McKinnon, the media adviser for the Bush campaign said at that point things went dark at the Bush campaign said, at that point, things went dark at the Bush campaign, but then it turned around. The race was called for Bush.

He got a phone call from Mr. Gore conceding that Bush had won the race. Bush was congratulating his staffers, getting ready to make a speech. Everyone in Nashville thought Gore was ready to concede, and then the secretary of state in Florida said, wait just a minute.

So here we are, everything's still in flux. The crowd here dispersed sometime in the middle of the night. They stuck it out through horrible weather: It's cold, it's wet, it's absolutely miserable.

But Don Evans came out to address them, he's the chairman of the campaign and also a close friend of George W. Bush. Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DON EVANS, BUSH CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: Governor Bush and Secretary Cheney asked me to thank you for all your terrific support and hard work. We hope and believe we have elected the next president of the United States. The latest counts -- the latest vote count in the state of Florida shows Governor Bush winning that state by more than 1,200 votes. They're still counting and I'm confident, when it's all said and done, we will prevail.

Thank you again for all your hard work and all you efforts, and we look forward to a great celebration. God bless.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: You have just heard, as the Bush campaign believes, when all is said and done they will prevail. They point to the absentee ballot situation, not all of those have been counted, particularly the overseas absentee ballots. In 1996 there were 2,300 of those, and when they were all counted they trended Republican. Those have 10 days to get in and get counted, so Lord only knows how long this cliffhanger's going to last.

Back to you.

HARRIS: We can see and hear that rain coming down behind you, Jeanne.

First of all, do you know whether or not the governor is still awake and still waiting and watching the returns at all, or is he cashed in for the night?

MESERVE: We have been told that he has retired for the evening. Let me add, he did talk to reporters last night when Florida had first been called, and he foreshadowed what was going to happen. When the press pool was in his office he said, you know, I just don't believe these numbers out of Florida, my people there are saying the count is coming out different than the exit polls. He said, hold on just a minute, we're going to look more closely at this; and, of course, he proved to be absolutely right. We still don't know where it stands -- Leon.

HARRIS: Interesting. Well, let me ask you something else about that; as you may have heard that coming from him, the words that we heard from the campaign, or the face they were putting on was much more confident -- and this campaign had been confident and expressing confidence going all the way in.

Do you get a sense that the wind was actually knocked out of their sails when the state actually was taken out of the Bush column and put back into the "too close to call"?

MESERVE: I think it has to have just been shocking to them, to have it go back and forth like this. You know, you've talked to me the last couple days, you know what I've been saying: that Florida was absolutely key to their plans, they really thought they were up there by about five points. To have it go see-sawing back and forth and back and forth, as I said earlier, it's hard to imagine the emotion that must have been spent in Bush headquarters tonight -- Leon.

HARRIS: All right; thanks much, Jeanne Meserve, we'll let you get in and out of that rain, take care -- Carol.

LIN: All right, well Al Gore has called it a night, but CNN's Jonathan Karl is still standing by in the Democrat's home state of Tennessee. He joins us from Nashville.

Morning, Jonathan; I don't know if you've ever seen anything like this in your journalistic career.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not in my journalistic career and I don't know in anybody's journalistic career, at least not in the 20th century. Absolutely unbelievable.

Here's what happened here: Vice President Gore got word -- well, by the way, if you remember yesterday morning, Carol, you and I spoke about how this could be an extremely long night. The Gore campaign was predicting that it could go into Wednesday before we knew who would win and they were also saying it would come down to Florida, and that is exactly what happened.

And throughout the night we had just an incredible up and down of emotions here in the Gore campaign. The first came when all the networks called Florida for Gore. They thought they were well on their way to victory. Then, only later in the night, vote counting going on, Florida goes to Bush and Gore gets ready to make his concession speech.

As a matter of fact, Gore got the word, watching the networks, that he was going to lose Florida by 50,000 votes. So what he did is, he got his concession speech -- the concession speech was written. He got in his motorcade, leaving the Lois (ph) Hotel, which is about a 10-minute drive from here at the War Memorial plaza in Nashville. He was in his motorcade, he got here and then got word that that was not the case.

But here in Nashville, here at the War Memorial, everybody was waiting for Vice President Gore to make the concession speech. As a matter of fact, everything was in place, the woman that does sign language for these events was up on the stage; everybody was waiting for Vice President Gore to come and make his concession speech.

And instead his campaign chairman Bill Daley came, and this is what Daley had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL DALEY, GORE CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: Without being certain of the results in Florida, we simply cannot be certain of the results of this national election. Let me add that Vice President Gore and Senator Lieberman are fully prepared to concede and to support Governor Bush if and when he is officially elected president. But this race is simply too close to call, and until the results -- the recount is concluded and the results of Florida become official, our campaign continues.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: So, again, Carol, at 1:30 in the morning, local time, that's Central time, Vice President Gore places a call to Governor George Bush, concedes the election, congratulates him, gets in his motorcade, comes to the War Memorial Plaza to give a concession speech that has already been written, and this is what happens from there.

I've got a statement from the campaign that gives you a tick- tock. I think it's worth reading through. It begins with his motorcade arriving at the War Memorial Plaza. "When the motorcade was approximately two blocks from the War Memorial Plaza, field director Michael Whouley paged traveling chief of staff Michael Feldman to inform him that only 6,000 votes separated him and Governor Bush at that time, according to the Florida secretary of state, with a significant number of votes at that point still outstanding."

That margin, by the way, would narrow significantly from 6,000. "Mr. Feldman called campaign chairman William Daley to apprise him of the situation. By the time they reached this spot," the War Memorial Plaza, "the count was down to fewer than 1,000 in Florida. They met in the vice president's holding room, where he was waiting to come out to make his concession speech, to discuss the situation. Chairman Daley called Bush campaign chairman Don Evans at about 2:15 a.m. local time to inform him of the discussions.

"Between 2:30 and 2:45 a.m. local time, the vice president called Governor Bush again, the second call in an hour's time. The conversation lasted a few minutes." This statement says, "it's contents are private."

At that point, the vice president left the War Memorial to return to his hotel, the Lois Hotel, 10 minutes away. Now, the contents are private; I spoke to one of the people that works in the room with the vice president when he made that second phone call to Governor Bush and he said that it unfolded in this way: that the vice president informed Governor Bush that he had gotten this call from the secretary of state down in Florida, that he now learned that the election was simply too close to call in Florida and that, as a result, it was premature to concede the election.

He, essentially, took back the concession that he gave. But the vice president also went on to say that once the recount is done, if it turns out that, indeed, Governor Bush has won the state of Florida, that means he has won the election. Vice President Gore would make his concession and offer his congratulations to Governor Bush.

That's the story, Carol.

LIN: Oh my gosh. Well, Jon, the conversation may be private, but did your source describe the mood, the tone of that phone call?

KARL: Absolute disbelief. I mean, it was a somber call, a short call; of course, my source was in the room with Vice President Gore, so only heard one half of the conversation, only heard Vice President Gore making this case in a very dispassionate, calm way. You know, saying, hey, look, if this thing turns around, it turns out you have won, I'm going to concede, but right now it would be premature for either of us to do anything.

But what we don't know yet is what was happening on the other side of that conversation with Governor Bush.

LIN: I assume Vice President Gore not using the words, "calm down, calm down, governor."

KARL: Nothing like that, Carol.

LIN: All right. Well let's talk about -- exactly what happened in the shift? I mean, it seemed like the Gore campaign was looking at a difference of 1,000 votes and decided that nothing would change. So what exactly, happened? Were they not considering all the absentee ballots? Did they not consider the ballots that were still coming in from overseas?

KARL: Well, a major factor was absentee ballots, and a major factor were a couple of counties that actually hadn't finished reporting yet. Now, remember, what the campaign is saying, what the Gore campaign is saying, is they were basing their concession on the projections provided by the television networks; an interesting situation, here. And, by the way, some of them are a little bitter about that, a little upset about the topsy-turvy nature of the way this race was called in Florida -- first for Gore, then for Bush.

But at that point, they thought the margin in Florida was going to be a commanding 50,000 votes in favor of Governor Bush. And as those final returns from those precincts that hadn't been counted came in, the margin narrowed; and then you get into the absentee situation, the overseas ballots. You know, this could go on for a little while, at least.

LIN: At least; and, considering that there's likely to be a recount, it could be another week 1/2.

All right, Jon Karl, we're going to be checking in once again. Thanks fro the tick-tock, very interesting -- Leon.

HARRIS: Well it's just an incredible day, and it won't stop. It just won't stop. Now, the key to the White House is in the state of Florida.

CNN's Mark Potter is standing by in our Miami bureau to talk now about the possible Florida recount.

Morning, Mark, what's the word from there?

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, recount is the word; that's what it seems to be. And it's been a wild ride here, as you can imagine. Of all places, Florida has had a crazy night and a crazy morning. People here don't really know what to do.

The Democrats were cheering early last night, then things shifted and the Republicans were cheering. In fact, at one restaurant, people were jumping in the water they were so happy to hear of the results; and then they had to get out and dry off because things changed again. And here we are, everybody's standing around trying to figure out what's going on.

What we do know -- we think we know -- is that a recount seems imminent in Florida; and that's coming from the attorney general here Bob ButterWorth who, by the way, also happens to be the campaign coordinator for Florida for Vice President Gore. Election officials in Tallahassee are also indicating that Florida law says that with a vote so close as this one, the law requires a recount; and so that does seem that that's going to happen. We have not heard any details, however, of how that's going to take place.

Attorney general Butterworth, however, has been on television a lot this morning, talking to all the local stations, trying to assure people that this could be done very quickly -- it could be done today. All they need to do, he says, is bring in the election supervisors, bring the workers back in, set the machines back up, recalibrate them and do another count which, he says, could be done, easily, today.

Another problem, however, is there are those overseas absentee ballots and, under state law, the people who receive them can take 10 days to get them back; and normally that's not enough of a vote to make a difference, but in this one, where there's a difference of just a few hundred -- what, nearly 800 votes -- this could make a difference. It could take 10 days to get those results and we don't know how many there are but we do know that in 1996 there were 2,600 of them. And that, certainly, is more than the margin between the candidates that we see now.

So we'll hear more about this today. We thought we would finish this yesterday, maybe early this morning, but we've got another full day ahead of us now, and lot's of details to be worked out.

HARRIS: Yes, you're well into overtime, now, Mark, so don't worry about that. That's the kind of thing -- the bosses know about that.

POTTER: Absolutely.

HARRIS: The officials have to have some sort of an idea of how many absentee ballots were requested -- so they can't tell you, or give you any more specific information about what order of magnitude we're talking about? Whether we're talking about waiting for just a couple hundred or whether we're waiting for 5,000, 10,000 more ballots coming in or what?

POTTER: That's a good point, but they say they don't know; and what's critical is not how many were sent out, but how many come back in, and they can't know that. And, again, the number that we have from four years ago is 2,600. one election official told me that he thought there would probably be more this year because of everyone's interest in this election, particularly in Florida's role in this election. So they're thinking it could be more than that.

HARRIS: All right, finally, on last one, quickly: Do you know whether or not his is -- how many times Florida has ever had to have a recount? I know they said they've done this before for other state races, possibly, or other congressional or Senate races. Any idea when the last time was they had to do something like this?

POTTER: No, I don't know the details on that. Bob Butterworth was talking about that and he indicated that there was one race here where there just a one vote difference. But I don't know how many others there have been, but this is certainly -- this race is certainly on all levels, no matter how you look at it, no matter how you count it, unprecedented.

HARRIS: All right, Mark Potter in Miami, go get some coffee, you'll be there for a while; see you in a bit -- Carol.

LIN: As will we. All right, obviously a very dramatic election.

Let's go to CNN's Washington bureau chief Frank Sesno to take a look at this very interesting presidential race.

Frank, we've been talking about focusing on the Florida vote, here, but it's really not so much, at this point -- well, it is, in terms of how many votes come back -- but also where they're coming from. When you take a look at the state of Florida, can you tell where they're still waiting for votes from and what the demographic there is and who they're more likely to vote for?

FRANK SESNO, CNN WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Yes we can. Let's climb into some of the details of the results that we've got from Florida. First, let me tell you this: The gender is very important. It's something to watch, not only in Florida, but across the country as you try to understand and digest this remarkable event that we're witnessing here, something that we've never, ever, seen before. First, men went for Bush by a 10 percentage-point margin. Women went for Gore by a 10 percentage-point margin, so note the difference.

Now let's dive into some of the particulars as well. Let's look at the very important African American vote. That was something that Al Gore worked very hard to get out because, obviously, African Americans, traditionally, a base for the Democratic party. And the African American vote -- it represented 16 percent of the vote in the state of Florida. Of the 16 percent African American vote that was represented in the whole, 93 percent of that -- 93 percent of those African American voters went for Al Gore. An overwhelmingly strong African American turnout and an overwhelmingly strong turnout for Al Gore. That's obviously something that gave him the edge in that demographic and kept him competitive across the state.

Let's look at another very important demographic within the state of Florida: senior citizens; 19 percent of those who cast votes were senior citizens. They went 52 percent for Bush, 46 percent for Gore. Now why is that significant -- by the way, let me tell you that we're defining senior citizens as those 65 and older in this case. It's significant because Al Gore made a hard charge at senior citizens.

Remember, he came through the state very aggressively, he waved the flag that George W. Bush was going to do real damage to Social Security. In fact, I pulled up the Social Security ad that had hit the airwaves for Al Gore in just the last several days. He ridiculed Bush's reference to the fact it was a stumble, a mistake, a bumble, that Social Security, somehow, wasn't a federal program, Carol, and says, is this the man who should be leading America?

Apparently, didn't work; seniors split.

LIN: Well, 2 percent of Florida's voters so far have voted for Ralph Nader; so are those people -- would they have likely voted for Gore if Nader had not been a factor in this race?

SESNO: Well, it's very hard to say, and I haven't seen the full breakdown in Florida, Carol, yet as to how many of those Nader voters were first-time voters and voters who would otherwise not have voted.

But nationally, earlier we had been seeing that upwards of 3/4 of those who said they were going to vote for Nader would otherwise have voted for Al Gore. So in a race this close, I think it's quite safe to say that this was right out of Al Gore's pocket.

LIN: Yes, boy -- 95,000 people voting for Nader in Florida; sure could have...

SESNO: It's a remarkable thing, I mean -- and Florida's ground zero, right?

LIN: You bet; so far so good. All right, thank you very much Frank Sesno. We're going to be coming back to you to take a look at the balance of power on Capitol Hill to see how the Republicans are doing in both the House and the Senate -- capturing the Senate so far.

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