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CNN Special Reports
CNN Special Report: Bush Versus Gore. Aired 11:30p-12:30a ET
Aired October 10, 2020 - 23:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: The following is a CNN Special Report.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN HOST: An election in limbo?
SEN. JAMES BAKER, BUSH RECOUNT CHIEF STRATEGIST: Nobody really knew what was going to happen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just count the votes!
BORGER: And a nation divided.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were going to hold Florida unless they sent in federal troops.
BORGER: Happening not in 2020.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN's coverage of Election 2000.
BORGER: But 20 years ago, BUSH VERSUS GORE. The closest race in modern American political history.
BILL DALEY, GORE CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: I was just seeing my life kind of flashing around me.
BORGER: An election night like no other.
DAN RATHER, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: I was operating in an environment of volcanic chaos.
Bulletin. Florida pulled back into the undecided column.
BORGER: Launching a war for the White House.
(On camera): The campaign chairman comes in and says to you --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You better get people scrambling for a recount. And that was the holy shit moment.
BORGER (voice-over): Thirty-six days of political combat at the highest levels.
SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN, GORE VICE PRESIDENTIAL RUNNING MATE: In the end the Supreme Court had the last word. DAVID HUME KENNERLY, ELECTION NIGHT PHOTOGRAPHER: If you were a
screenwriter, they'd fire you for this story.
BORGER (on camera): So could it happen again?
RON KLAIN, GORE CAMPAIGN GENERAL COUNSEL: There's no question it could happen again.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: We want Gore. We want Gore. We want Gore.
BORGER (voice-over): It's after 3:00 in the morning on November 8th, 2000. The War Memorial in Nashville, Tennessee. Vice President Al Gore is inside getting ready to publicly concede the presidential election to George W. Bush.
DALEY: It was total chaos as we were trying to get into the War Memorial, pouring rain. The vice president and Lieberman's family, and that whole group had gone in. The Secret Service, the police, everybody was it.
MICHAEL WHOULEY, GORE NATIONAL FIELD DIRECTOR: And I got on the phone with Bill Daley, and he said, what's up, Mike. And I said, Billy, we haven't lost. This thing is going to be an automatic recanvass. I said this thing is too close to call.
DALEY: I was just seeing my life kind of flashing around me. I kind of break out into sweat, thinking, oh, my god, what do we do here?
WHOULEY: And that's when he contacted David Morehouse.
DAVID MOREHOUSE, GORE SENIOR COUNSELOR AND TRIP DIRECTOR: Everything was ringing at once and vibrating.
DALEY: I told him grab the vice president, get him into a holding room with Joe Lieberman. Do not let anyone go out. Just everybody, freeze.
MOREHOUSE: Michael Feldman was trying to get ahold of me. And Feldman said, yes, you need to stop the vice president from conceding.
MICHAEL FELDMAN, GORE TRAVELING CHIEF OF STAFF: He cannot go out on stage. You've got to bring him to hold.
MOREHOUSE: The vice president is walking really fast. Takes me a little bit to catch up with him. And I caught up with him. We're walking on the long hallway. At the end of the hallway, some stairs that lead to the outside where the stage is. I just in front of the stairs and said, Mr. Vice President, we have to go to hold. And he said, "This better be good."
BORGER: Before election day ever started, the 2000 vote was too close to call.
LIEBERMAN: Our polling was showing that it was a dead heat, that it was basically within the margin of error.
BORGER: For news anchors, election night is the Super Bowl. TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: We're electing the most powerful person
in the world.
BORGER: And this election looked like one for the record books.
RATHER: Any journalist worth of the name, what you wanted was a great story and this was a great story.
BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: Election night for any presidential contest is not routine. No, it's not because it's too important, too historic. But as the evening wore on, it was clear this one is different. This one is different.
ANNOUNCER: This is a CNN Election 2000 Special Presentation.
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: If you've ever longed for those nights when -- that you've heard about when people waited late to find out who their leader was, pull up a chair, this may be it.
SHAW: We started routinely with the polls closing and we watched the clock.
This is how our electoral map looks at 7:34 Eastern Time. Governor Bush far ahead of Vice President Gore.
BORGER: Predictable results in the states first to close their polls. Then earth-shattering news.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And all together according to senator --
RATHER: Mike, excuse me one second. I'm so sorry to interrupt you. Mike, you know I wouldn't do this if it weren't big. Florida goes for Al Gore. Now folks, the equation changes.
Then it happens like that. It's in a year. Florida for Gore. Boom. Ladies and gentlemen, let's pause right here because this could be decisive -- could be decisive in the election.
BORGER: Twenty-five decisive electoral votes, votes that could deliver the presidency for Al Gore.
At the governor's mansion in Austin, there was pure anguish.
KAREN HUGHES, BUSH CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: There was this pause, it was very quiet. And when I asked President Bush 41 how he was doing, he said not so good right now.
BORGER (on camera): What were you guys thinking about the network projections at that point?
HUGHES: I think the feeling from the beginning from our people who were crunching the numbers was that the networks were wrong.
BORGER (voice-over): Karen Hughes wasn't the only one unconvinced. GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I don't believe some of these
states, that they've called like Florida, I just don't believe they have enough evidence to be able to call the state.
HUGHES: That state's going to flip, I really feel that way.
RATHER: I do remember saying to myself, wow, I hope they're right with this. Basically it was, listen, don't question the decision of the decision desk, Florida belongs to Gore.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But I think, Bill, and you're the maven on this one, that generally networks do not call unless they have a pretty high degree of assurance, correct?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is correct. We have a pretty high degree of assurance that Florida and Pennsylvania have gone for Al Gore.
BORGER: Then two minutes later, all hell breaks loose.
SHAW: Stand by. Stand by. CNN right now is moving our earlier declaration of Florida back to the too-close-to-call column.
Beads of sweat start popping out of my forehead.
Twenty-five very big electoral votes in the home state of the governor's brother, Jeb Bush, are hanging in the balance. This no longer is a victory for Vice President Gore. We're moving it back into a too-close-to-call --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, waiter, one order of crow, please.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Crow, yes.
SHAW: I could actually feel sweat as I realized that this was wrong, we had to correct it.
BORGER: And so did every other network within minutes.
BROKAW: NBC News is now taking Florida out of Vice President Gore's column and putting it back in the too-close-to-call column.
RATHER: Bulletin, Florida pulled back into the undecided column. Computer and data problem.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We pulled it back until we can examine the data and see where we are.
RATHER: This knockdown, drag-out battle drags on into the night and turn the lights down, the party just got wilder.
BROKAW: We don't just have egg in our face, we've got omelet all over our suits.
The numbers started to go back and forth, you know, couldn't trust any of them. And I finally ran out of ways to explain to the audience what was going on. RATHER: The chaos factor just went through the roof. There's always
chaos. Now we've reached the abnormal. Now we've reached a land where we've never been.
SHAW: Basically the projections are made by exit polling data and also actual vote counts from model precincts.
BORGER: But those numbers were off and they were shared by all the networks.
SHAW: This model had worked in the past. It clearly not only did not work that night but it sputtered and sputtered and sputtered.
BORGER: The models didn't work because Florida was a mess. Confusing ballots left voters unsure about whom they had actually voted for. Local election officials misreported vote counts and exit poll samples were just not accurate.
(On camera): In your ear are they trying to be calm even though they're freaking out?
RATHER: Yes, they're trying to be calm but that's a failure.
BROKAW: I was trying to be as transparent as possible. This system is breaking down around me at that point. I know I was thinking we got to find out now where we go next.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I (INAUDIBLE) computers, Tom, this is the answer, get it right.
BORGER (voice-over): Coming up --
LIEBERMAN: Al places the call and we don't hear Governor Bush. At one point I believe Al said something like, "You don't have to be so snippety about it."
BORGER: In the early morning hours on November 8th while thousands gather outside in Nashville, Joe Lieberman and his wife Hadassah are in their hotel room waiting to hear if he will be the nation's next vice president.
LIEBERMAN: Somebody had sent an arrangement of flowers to our room, and in coming into the room, she expressed herself, expletives deleted, and basically sort of knocked the flowers off the table.
BORGER: Everyone is frustrated. And then shortly after 2:00 a.m., it gets worse.
RATHER: Bush wins. Florida goes Bush. The presidency is Bush. That's it.
BROKAW: The home state of Governor Jeb Bush. It's going to be a much happier Thanksgiving for the Bush family.
PETER JENNINGS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: ABC News is going to project that Florida goes to Mr. Bush. Just stop and absorb that for a second.
LIEBERMAN: We've got the TV on. All of a sudden, whichever network we were watching, you know, I think it was CNN and it was Bernard Shaw, I think, broke in and said --
SHAW: George Bush, governor of Texas, will become the 43rd president of the United States.
LIEBERMAN: I actually get a chill when I say it right now. And I said I've got to go see Al.
BORGER: What Lieberman didn't know was that Gore had already decided to concede. He placed the call.
DALEY: He just said, Governor, you know, put a fight or whatever he said, I forget the exact words, but conceded, it was a very short call. I think Governor Bush just thanked him. There was no love lost between either one of these guys. They didn't like each other, period. And so it was probably a 10-second call at most. And that was it.
HUGHES: At the time he conceded, Jeb Bush was still over there on his computer, and he's like what they're seeing. I don't know what numbers they're seeing. I think it's still too close.
BORGER (on camera): So were you guys kind of surprised? It sounds like Jeb was.
HUGHES: I think Jeb was surprised when Vice President Gore called to concede.
BORGER (voice-over): Jeb Bush was the governor of Florida at the time. Trying to deliver the state for his big brother. He wasn't the only one scratching his head at Gore's concession.
WHOULEY: Our numbers were going back and forth.
BORGER: At headquarters, Michael Whouley, Gore's own numbers wizard, kept doing the math with no idea that Gore's motorcade was already on the way for his concession speech.
(On camera): How is it that you guys in the boiler room were not told they were going to concede?
WHOULEY: I don't know. I think they believed the network news. When Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather said that George Bush had won, they thought it was game over. But there was a furious scramble to find somebody in the motorcade.
FELDMAN: Maybe a minute after we left the hotel, my White House pager went off. It was a call from Michael Whouley.
WHOULEY: I think my words were, you know, where are you guys? And he said we're at the War Memorial. And I asked why. I was obviously incredulous. And he said we're about to concede. And I said for what? We haven't lost.
BORGER (voice-over): Something was fishy and it smelled all the way to Austin where team George W. Bush nervously waited.
KENNERLY: Jeb Bush looking like his life is passing before his eyes because he's the good brother whose state is going to let down his brother George. And George and Laura Bush looking pretty like kind of shell shocked a little bit.
BORGER: Finally after 3:00 a.m., a second call to Bush from Gore, who was still hunkered down backstage at the War Memorial.
HUGHES: The phone rang again, and I heard Governor Bush in this very incredulous voice saying, you're retracting your concession? And, you know, I mean, there's no precedent for anything like that.
LIEBERMAN: Then at another point toward the end of the conversation, he said, I don't care what your little brother says. The networks are all saying now it's too close to call. And, therefore, I've got to withdraw my concession.
DONNA BRAZILE, GORE CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I mean, hell, his brother was the governor. But, you know, he was like, well, my brother and I was like, hey, you know, I'll never forget his facial expression.
LIEBERMAN: So he hung up the phone, everybody cheers. And then somebody says, wow, you called Jeb Bush's little brother. So Al says, I didn't call him his little brother. He called him his little brother.
BORGER: As the Bush team squirmed in Austin, it fell to Gore campaign chairman Bill Daley to deliver an unprecedented message, that Gore had withdrawn his concession. It was 4:00 a.m.
DALEY: And Gore said to me you do it. I said I'm not going to do it. Forget about it, I'm not going to go out there on TV at 2:30. He said no, you do it. So I thought, oh, my god, I got to get out there. To a billion people worldwide watching this in the middle of the night in the U.S. They're trying to figure out who's the president of the United States.
This race is simply too close to call. And until the results -- the recount is concluded and the results in Florida become official, our campaign continues.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
BORGER: Up next, taking the fight to the streets of Florida.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wasn't a big fan of Al Gore's, and the prospect of evening the score was an enticing prospect to me.
BORGER: At the governor's mansion in Austin, it was the morning after.
BUSH: How many hours of sleep did you get last night?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: About two. How about you?
BUSH: About three. And a half, actually.
KLAIN: The one thing that keeps every operative, every person who looks at on a campaign going, is the knowledge that it's over on election day. You know that this thing has an end.
BORGER: But the election of 2000 didn't end. It just moved to Florida, where 25 electoral votes would determine the presidency.
DALEY: We were going to take Liebermann's plane. And Ron Klain was going to lead the charge. We had a bunch of lawyers get briefed on -- on the whole thing. And they were going to go off to Florida that night, in the middle of the night.
KLAIN: I remember telling my wife as I left early that morning to get on the plane that I'd be home by Friday. I was pretty sure I'd be home by Friday.
BORGER (on camera): Good idea.
BORGER (voice-over): In Austin, team Bush needed a leader. A heavy hitter. The choice was obvious.
BUSH: We have asked former United States Secretary of State, James Baker, to travel to Florida on our behalf.
JOE ALLBAUGH, BUSH CAMPAIGN MANAGER: And he said, well, Joe, how long do you think we ought to pack for? And I said, oh, two or three days. We're going to the Sunshine State.
BAKER: By 2:00 that afternoon, I was on an airplane to Florida with Joe Allbaugh.
ALLBAUGH: He has one bag and we get in the plane. Very small plane. Fly off to Tallahassee, and he says, OK, brief me. After about 45 minutes, he leans back in the seat, and he says we're headed to the Supreme Court. I was absolutely blown away.
BORGER (on camera): The Supreme Court.
ALLBAUGH: The Supreme Court of the United States. I said, you're kidding me. And without batting an eye, taking a breath, he said it's the only way this can end.
BORGER (voice-over): Punching heavyweight for the Democrats was former secretary of State, Warren Christopher.
WARREN CHRISTOPHER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: We're proceeding in accordance with the constitution of laws, and we'll continue to do so.
BORGER: Both, statesmen. Both diplomats. But hardly alike.
RATHER: You'd never met anybody who had more respect for. But he was an old fashioned, by-the-book lawyer. Jim Baker was that, plus a down- in-the-pit, political, hand-to-hand combat fighter.
BROKAW: Look, when I heard that Jim Baker was going to be involved on the other side, this is a guy who comes armed on both sides. I mean, you know, he carries two holsters and he's got other hidden weapons.
BORGER: Baker and Christopher had only one face-to-face meeting. At the governor's inn in Tallahassee where it became very clear they were fighting different wars.
KLAIN: Secretary Christopher laid out a number of ideas about how the uncertainty in Florida might be resolved. And Secretary Baker listened, politely. But simply said, really, I have no idea what you're talking about. There's no dispute here. Governor Bush won the election. Secretary of State Katherine Harris is going to certify that. And the only thing we're here to discuss that is the terms and conditions under which Vice President Gore is going to concede.
BAKER: There was never any thought or suggestion that we could come to a conclusion because somebody had to win and somebody had to lose.
BORGER (on camera): But I heard you just came in and were very sort of very like we won. Like we're preserving this --
BAKER: Of course I did, because that's what I believed and, by the way, that's what happened.
BORGER (voice-over): Baker knew, to win, he needed to get out of Florida's courts.
BAKER: If we didn't find a way to get into the federal courts, we were dead meat.
BORGER: Because the Florida Supreme Court was dominated by Democrats, Baker had to make his case to conservatives who wanted to leave it at the state level.
BAKER: You want to be ideologically pure? Or do you want to win? They said we want to win. I said, well, then don't be criticizing our going to federal court because if we stay with the Florida Supreme Court, we're going to lose. There was no doubt about it. And if you look at their opinions and the way they screwed us with those opinions, it -- we would've lost.
BORGER: The Gore team complained the odds were against them. Republicans controlled the statehouse and George Bush's brother Jeb was the governor.
GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: We thought it would be close. Never, in my wildest dreams, did I ever imagine it would be this close. DALEY: If you own the system, which the governor, at the time, Bush,
owned, you generally will win. They didn't do anything criminal or inappropriate. But as I said, I think if the Democrats controlled the governorship and basically controlled the state, no doubt in my mind, those calls would have been made for the Democrat.
BORGER (on camera): Jeb was sort of the wizard behind the curtain.
DALEY: Yes. Right. Well, he's the governor of the state.
DALEY: And there was -- there was chaos as a result of an election in his state. And he was going to come back and try to get control of this thing.
ALLBAUGH: He's between a rock and a hard spot. I mean, obviously, he wants his brother to win. But he can show no favoritism in his role as governor of the state. And we weren't asking him. I don't believe that he pulled any levers.
BORGER: Or maybe he didn't have to. Maybe it was just understood.
KLAIN: No major law firm in Florida would work for Al Gore.
BORGER (on camera): Even Democratic?
KLAIN: Even Democratic-oriented law firms because everyone was afraid of antagonizing the Bush family, antagonizing the governor, and losing important state business.
BORGER: Did you have any evidence that they had been called by the governor?
KLAIN: No evidence that anyone said anything to anybody. Stuff didn't have to be said, right? It was just all obvious. It turned out that the name of the governor of the state of Florida was the same name as the name of the person we were running against. You know, and so nothing had to be said. And I'm not saying that Governor Bush did anything wrong. I don't believe he did. I want to be clear about that. But it wasn't a fair process. It wasn't a neutral process. It was a process that was rigged against us.
BORGER: What was rigged?
KLAIN: Kind of everything. So we can start with the fact that the person who was in charge of making sure, of directing the counties to do what Florida law required, which is a recanvass, a retabulation of their votes in every county, was George Bush's campaign chair in Florida, Katherine Harris.
GLORIA, BORGER, CNN HOST: Up next the war that wouldn't end.
KATHERINE HARRIS, GEORGE BUSH'S CAMPAIGN CHAIR: I hereby declare Governor George W. Bush the winner.
JOHN "MAC" STIPANOVICH, SENIOR ADVISER TO KATHERINE HARRIS: Katherine thought that George had won the election. And we were going to fight them tooth and nail, house to house, hand to hand. And we were going to hold Florida unless they sent in federal troops.
BORGER: In the 2000 election, more than 100 million ballots were cast in 50 states. But the race would come down to a few hundred votes and the authority of one woman.
HARRIS: It's exciting to see the process working.
BORGER: Destined for infamy.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Am I going to enjoy watching that Tennessee robot cry when he hears the results? Yes. Does that make me partisan? I don't think so.
BORGER: Katherine Harris was the Republican Florida secretary of state in charge of the recount. And she was also the state campaign co-chair for George W. Bush.
BILL DALEY, GORE CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: What we asked her for was that she would be honest broker.
BORGER (on camera): And what was her response?
DALEY: Well, thank you.
BORGER: But you walked out of there and you were like --
DALEY: Forget this. You know?
KLAIN: Of course she was trying to win for George Bush. That's what she was doing. But she was using her power as secretary of state. As the state's election administration official. To try to produce that result. And that was wrong.
BAKER: My sense is she was trying to do the best job she could. She'd been thrust into this, sort of, involuntarily. It was a great, big role.
HARRIS: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
BEN GINSBERG, BUSH CAMPAIGN NATIONAL COUNSEL: There was nobody she could call up and say, so, I've got a presidential recount here. What do I do as secretary of state?
BAKER: She was very nervous. She was quite -- yes, and my recollection is this Mac Stipanovich was her adviser and he was a solid person.
BORGER (voice-over): A well-respected Tallahassee lobbyist with ties to Jeb Bush and a long history in Republican politics, Mac Stipanovich became Katherine Harris's brain.
STIPANOVICH: I explained to her, you don't have any friends. This isn't (INAUDIBLE) when this is over. And then we're going to be loathed by the media for the rest of our lives and through the lives of our grandchildren. That's not what's important here today. We are going to elect a president of the United States. Forget all the rest of that stuff.
BORGER: As Americans watched the partisans duke it out daily on live TV, behind the scenes, Mac was plotting the Republican path to victory.
STIPANOVICH: I called the senior staff together and I said we're not going to break any laws but I want you to forget about the intended loss. We're going to bring this election (INAUDIBLE). And we're going to fight them tooth and nail, house to house, hand to hand, and we were going to hold Florida unless they sent in federal troops.
BORGER: He knew exactly what he had to do. Stop recounting votes and preserve Bush's election night lead no matter how small.
STIPANOVICH: We actually believed the result was right. I said George Bush has won this election, and it is our job to make it so. And we're going to, rapidly as possible, close off any option, any path, that could be followed that produces any result other than that one. People are going to watch this and be appalled, oh, my god, the corrupt bastards. They stole the election. No, we won the election.
BORGER: No, you didn't, said the Democrats, citing a long list of complaints. In Broward County, hanging in dimpled chads that left voter intent unclear. In Duval, confusing instructions to voters. And in Palm Beach, the now-notorious butterfly ballot.
(On camera): How would you describe what happened to Al Gore in Florida?
DALEY: He got screwed by a bad ballot in Palm Beach that the Democratic leadership in that county signed off on.
BORGER (voice-over): The butterfly ballot had punch holes for Al Gore and ultraconservative Pat Buchanan located dangerously close to each other. Just asking for mistakes.
REP. ROBERT WEXLER (D-FL): I can tell you that the people came out of the voting booth in the hundreds, knowing, realizing, that they had punched Pat Buchanan's number, thinking it was Al Gore.
DALEY: Had the butterfly ballot not happened, Al Gore would've been president of the United States. No doubt in my mind. Period.
BORGER: A big glitch that after election day left Gore scrambling to fix the unfixable.
GINSBERG: They had a real argument to make about that ballot, but only before the election. They didn't have it afterwards. The Democrats signed off on it. The Republicans signed off on it. It was designed by a Democratic elections director in Palm Beach County.
DALEY: He had very few options to fundamentally change the outcome after that.
BORGER: So how and how hard to fight? Questions that would dog and divide the Democrats.
MICHAEL WHOULEY, GORE NATIONAL FIELD DIRECTOR: When you're in a fight, the first person who stops fighting always loses.
BORGER: As days of uncertainty turned into weeks, the bitterness spread. Even outside the vice president's house.
DALEY: They were there praying and chanting get out of Cheney's house. So they were trying to build the image that we were the ones who were not following the law.
BORGER: Behind the gates, the Gore family strained to project normalcy. And as his team huddled inside, it soon became clear that not everyone was in a take-no-prisoners mood.
SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN, GORE VICE PRESIDENTIAL RUNNING MATE: And somebody came over to me and said, Senator, you're a young man with a great future. And so is Al Gore. And I just urge you to look at the decisions we have to make in that light. And --
BORGER (on camera): Don't be a sore loser.
LIEBERMAN: Yes, and I was shocked, I must say, by that reaction.
BORGER (voice-over): Image was key during the recount. And each man stayed true to form.
BAKER: Bush differed from Gore significantly because what Bush did was to pass the responsibility and authority to me.
DALEY: They were going through the charade of having a transition.
BORGER (on camera): Right.
DALEY: And Cheney was out there meeting with people and probably picking the Cabinet.
BORGER (voice-over): Gore, meanwhile, managed every detail of the fight.
(On camera): And the Gore campaign, you had Gore at the Naval Observatory.
BAKER: He was more of a micro manager.
AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: Machines can sometimes misread or fail to detect the way ballots are cast.
BORGER (voice-over): One of the biggest choices Gore had to make, which votes to recount. The final decision, just four out of Florida's 67 counties.
(On camera): Why those four? Why not just statewide recount?
KLAIN: Those were four counties where we had concrete evidence of errors, inaccuracies, and mistakes on election day. Secondly, the clock was ticking. And we knew that the time we had to get these things counted was limited.
BORGER (voice-over): One more thing about the counties the Democrats chose, they were heavily Democratic.
BAKER: I think the biggest mistake they made during the whole thing was to ask for a recount in four Democratic counties. That gave us the high ground.
They had a good slogan. Count every vote. How can that be fair? Just to ask for a recount in your counties.
DONNA BRAZILE, GORE CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Our legal strategy was predicated on four counties, believing that if we went back and recounted those four counties, we would make up the difference.
BORGER (on camera): Was that a mistake?
BRAZILE: Very much a mistake.
BORGER (voice-over): The Florida courts let recount continue for three crazy weeks. As the tension became surreal.
BAKER: The Gore campaign refused to accept the vote count on election day.
DALEY: The delays have been largely the product of lawsuits filed by Republicans or erroneous legal opinions for the secretary of state.
BORGER: When the clock ran out on November 26th, Secretary of State Katherine Harris grandly announced the results.
STIPANOVICH: We needed the nation to see hat, as far as we were concerned, it was over. George Bush had won. Move on. And so it was important that there be some drama.
BORGER: And there was plenty of drama.
HARRIS: In accordance with the laws of the state of Florida, I, hereby, declare Governor George W. Bush the winner of Florida's 25 electoral votes for the president of the United States.
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Good evening.
BORGER: The margin, 537 votes.
BUSH: Secretary Cheney and I are honored and humbled to have won the state of Florida, which gives us the needed electoral votes to win the election.
BORGER: And Lieberman fired back.
LIEBERMAN: This evening, the secretary of state of Florida has decided to certify what, by any reasonable standard, is an incomplete and inaccurate count of the votes cast in the state of Florida.
Part of why I went out, clearly, was to say to the public, this ain't over yet. You know? It ain't over until it's over.
BORGER: And it wasn't over. Just halftime. The Democrats went to the friendly state Supreme Court and won big.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Circuit Court shall order a manual recount of all under votes.
BORGER: Not only did the court deny Bush's victory in Florida, but it also ordered a new statewide recount of disputed ballots. Advantage, Gore.
(On camera): Did you believe at that point at all that you might win?
KLAIN: Because we had more votes. We just needed to get them counted.
LIEBERMAN: The vice president's residence on Friday night was a party. Everybody was thrilled about the victory in the Florida Supreme Court because we felt that it was the preface to a victory overall because it would give us the recount we wanted.
BORGER (voice-over): But there was no joy in Bushville.
KAREN HUGHES, BUSH CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Excruciating. Just excruciating. I just remember thinking it just seemed unfair and arbitrary.
BAKER: It was like being on a treadmill. I mean, we never knew from day to day whether we were going to win or whether we were going to lose. We'd lose a case one day. We'd win one the next day.
BORGER: As Baker had predicted from day one, he would have to look to another court for the final outcome he wanted.
TED OLSON, BUSH SUPREME COURT ATTORNEY: We felt that we had sound, constitutional arguments in our favor. DAVID BOIES, GORE SUPREME COURT ATTORNEY: I think it was probably the
biggest disappointment that I've had in my lifetime in terms of what the Supreme Court has done.
BORGER: The election that should have ended the same day it began is still dragging on one month later.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I think 31 days into this, we learned to think that anything is possible.
DALEY: It's like Groundhog Day.
HUGHES: I just remember thinking this is never going to end.
BORGER: After the Florida Supreme Court allowed the recount to continue, the Democrats could smell success. But Republicans pushed past the Florida Supreme Court, to an even higher authority.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to put a stay on the recount in Florida.
BORGER: On December 9th, in a stunning decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, to stop the count.
BOIES: I am eating lunch in the sports bar when the television flashed across the screen that the United States Supreme Court had issued an order stopping the vote count. My first reaction is that had to be a mistake.
BORGER (on camera): Can't be true.
BOIES: Was true.
BORGER (voice-over): Advantage, Bush. And so the final showdown was set between two super lawyers. Democrat David Boies for Gore who was desperate to restart the counting.
BOIES: Citizen's right to vote. It certainly felt momentous. We knew the stakes were very high.
BORGER: And Republican Ted Olson, who went to work immediately to keep the count frozen.
OLSON: I found literally a broom closet on the floor beneath where everybody was working, where I can close the door and think and write.
BORGER: After just 36 hours to prep, Olson and Boies climbed the marble steps, each ascending into a legal stratosphere no one could have scripted.
OLSON: The time pressures, the fact that the presidency of the United States was at stake, the fact that this was a political battle, a media battle, and a legal battle, all taking place, so-called perfect storm. All taking place in a very short period of time.
BORGER: For 90 minutes, the two men went at it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll hear argument on number 00949 George W. Bush and Richard Cheney versus Albert Gore.
BORGER: For team Bush, Olson argued that the Florida court had changed the rules in the middle of the game by allowing a statewide recount.
OLSON: If one reads it the way the Florida Supreme Court did, the entire process is tilted on its head.
You can't have rules that say they must be counted -- ballots must be counted this way before the election and then count them differently after the election.
BORGER: For team Gore, David Boies countered the high court had no business intervening in the first place.
BOIES: That is something that has to be decided in the initial instance by the Florida Supreme Court interpreting Florida law.
The real issue is which court ought to be making that decision? Historically, it was always the State Supreme Court. Historically, the United States Supreme Court had never intervened in a presidential election.
BORGER: But this time, it would.
LARRY KING, FORMER CNN HOST: They have reached a decision. That word is imminent. Don't leave CNN.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The judge of the Supreme Court of Florida is reversed.
BORGER: By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court decided the recount would not continue. It was over and Bush had won. News that would soon reach Republican headquarters in Tallahassee.
GINSBERG: We got a heads-up call about 10 minutes beforehand that said the opinion's coming. Watch your fax machine.
BORGER (on camera): Fax machine.
GINSBERG: Fax machine.
BAKER: I got a call from Austin, from Governor Bush. And I answered the call and I said, congratulations, Mr. President-elect.
GINSBERG: We gathered everybody together.
To the next president of the United States.
Everybody fought really hard. They had done an incredible job. It was an incredible setting. And precisely the outcome we had hoped for.
BORGER: You're still emotional.
GINSBERG: I'm still emotional about it, sure. You know, it's just moments of pure -- of pure joy.
BORGER (voice-over): Or devastation, if you worked for Al Gore.
KLAIN: I got on the phone with Vice President Gore and started to read him parts of it. We got to the part where the court essentially ordered that the recount wouldn't go forward, and that was, you know, the moment when it was really over.
BORGER (on camera): What did you say?
KLAIN: I said a series of four-letter words. And I'm not going to repeat it here because my mom watches CNN.
BORGER (voice-over): Twenty years later, Democrats are still second guessing. Nick Baldick had been on the ground in Florida for Al Gore.
NICK BALDICK, GORE FLORIDA SENIOR ADVISER: If you work in an election like that, and it ends up getting decided by one vote in the Supreme Court, you constantly have to say to yourself, what could I have done?
BORGER: Should Democrats have been more aggressive?
BALDICK: I think the Republicans came to a gunfight with a gun and we came with a knife.
BORGER: Did Gore's initial concession set him up as a sore loser?
(On camera): Do you regret telling Gore to concede in the first place?
DALEY: Yes. Yes. Uh-huh. I do. And at the point that we recommended that it was over, there was no other option as long as Florida was with Bush.
BORGER (voice-over): Should Democrats have made more use of President Bill Clinton, who was kept on the sidelines by the Gore campaign?
BRAZILE: We did not utilize him to his full effect in this, no question.
DALEY: Anybody else goes through the use Bill Clinton, the -- that's all bullshit.
BORGER: Al Gore had won the national popular vote by more than half a million but he lost the two most important votes. The one in the electoral college and the one at the Supreme Court. Case closed.
But even now the dispute lives on because nobody can prove for sure how voters intended to vote.
BALDICK: I think more people went to the polls intending to vote for Al Gore for president than George Bush in Florida. Yes. STIPANOVICH: I thought George Bush had won.
BORGER: Even Republican operative Mac Stipanovich agrees.
STIPANOVICH: I believe the people who went to the polls that day and voted elected George Bush. I believe the people who went to the polls that day and intended to vote probably elected Al Gore.
DALEY: Most elections are screwed up. The presidency of the United States is rarely at risk based upon that.
BORGER: On January 20th, George W. Bush was sworn in as the 43rd president of the United States, and the 2000 election entered the record books as the closest and most controversial race in modern political history.
(On camera): So to this day, you think you won?
BALDICK: I think it was fundamentally a tie. I think if we had kept counting, it would have been very interesting.
BORGER: And maybe you would've won?
BALDICK: We'll never know.