The Final Tally: Bush Wins. Or Does He?

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Bush supporters celebrate outside the Texas state Capitol in Austin

Alright. Just stop this. Stop this right now. Just when we thought this race had finally reached a resolution, this: After an early morning call from the secretary of state of Florida, Al Gore has retracted his concession. The reason: The Gore campaign believes Florida — and the necessary votes to win the presidency — is still in play. Settle back, folks — we're going to be here for a while.

1:30 a.m.EST: The House stays in Republican hands. But will the Senate follow suit?

It's official: The House of Representatives will remain in Republican hands. As votes continue to come through, the amount of the majority will undoubtedly flip-flop, but at this point, there's no arithmetical possibility of the Democrats' gaining their dearly desired edge. Speaker Dennis Hastert has called off the movers.

On the other side of the Capitol, however, the story is a bit different. At press time, the Republicans have a very slight majority in the U.S. Senate (49-47 according to current numbers), and with four races (in Missouri, Montana, Michigan and Nebraska) still outstanding, either the Republicans or the Democrats could easily maintain or capture a majority, respectively. The Democrats have gained several seats already, including that of Washington's incumbent Slade Gorton, who lost to Democrat Maria Cantwell.

In Missouri, Republican John Ashcroft is leading the late Governor Mel Carnahan by the slimmest of margins. Michigan's race between Democrat Debbie Stabenow and Republican incumbent Spencer Abraham is up for grabs, and in Montana, either Democrat Brian Schweitzer or Republican incumbent Conrad Burns could take the seat. Nebraska boasts the tightest race of the bunch: Republican Don Stenburg and Democrat Ben Nelson both have 50 percent of the vote.

The full significance of either majority, of course, will be unclear until we know who's won the presidency. But one thing is clear: With such a scant majority in either house, both a Bush or Gore White House will likely deadlock on many of the same issues that confounded Clinton and his Capitol Hill compatriots.

12:45 p.m. EST: Florida plus one wins the presidency, but Florida could be counting for a while

We may not have a winner tonight.

What we do have is Bush taking Arkansas (6), Alaska (3) and Nevada (4), putting him at 246 with 28 needed to win. We have Gore taking Washington (11) — despite 900,000 absentee ballots, so watch that one — to reach the same total. At 12:12 a.m. on Wednesday, November 8. The totals now take out the possibility of a dead heat.

Left in play are a scant 54 electoral votes: Iowa (7), Wisconsin (11), Oregon (7) and, yes, Florida (25). Win Florida and one other state, and you win.

And don't get me started on Florida. With 92 percent of precincts, well over 5 million votes, counted, Bush is leading by approximately 50,000 votes. Dade County (the one with Miami) is still rolling in, and the heavily Jewish (and usually Democratic) county of Palm Beach has gone, apparently through some ballot mishap, for Pat Buchanan. Confusion reigns. They say they may be done counting by 2:30.

And there are 600,000 absentee ballots outstanding.

Then there's the matter of Missouri, which went to Bush but is sure to see some legal challenges in the next few days. New Mexico has been called for Gore, but there are rumblings about absentee ballots there. The only thing to prevent weeks of investigations and allegations will be some serious magnanimity from the loser. If he knows who he is.

Will there be any news at all before the cock crows? Well, with 72 percent of the vote in, George W. Bush leads in the popular vote — by less than a million votes out of some 73 million cast. If that lead manages to widen to oh, say, 3 or 4 million (or Gore grabs the same margin) we will at least know half of the equation in the near future.

Too bad it's the useless half.

11:00 p.m. EST: The Northwest hangs in the balance, and Florida is still up in the air

California and its giant electoral prize (54 votes) goes to Gore, which means the veep stays alive. Hawaii (4 votes) also goes Democratic. Colorado (8 votes) goes to Bush.

Oregon and Washington are, unsurprisingly, undecided, and could remain that way for quite some time: In a typically unorthodox move, Washington State collected all of its votes by mail. And Oregon, which allows mail-ins as well, has a spectacular number of absentee ballots.

In Florida, it's coming down to the wire, with only a small number of in-state votes still uncounted. Absentee ballots, of which there are a projected half million, could make or break the day for either candidate. A note: Absentee balloters from Florida tend to vote Republican.

In other words, there could be a heck of a lot of paper cuts welling up tonight as election officials tear through piles of paper ballots.

Back in the heartland, Missouri Republicans are accusing Democrats of election fraud, after a court order kept polls in St. Louis open late. Reports indicate the city polling places were ill-equipped to handle the influx of voters and had to call in extra workers, ballots and voting machines as would-be voters lined up and waited. While the race between Republican Senator Ashcroft and the late Governor Mel Carnahan remains too close to call, state GOP leaders call the St. Louis poll fiasco an attempt to buy time to collect votes.

10:25 p.m. EST: Florida is tossed back into the toss-ups, giving the race that was almost over a whole new lease on life

Is the race back on? Just before 10:00 p.m., CNN tossed a dose of real madness into the evening by putting Florida back into the toss-up column.

Besides messing with the heads of viewers and cork-popping Gore staffers alike, the move managed to make George W. Bush look prescient: He'd just been on television (taped earlier) reminiscing about the wrong call of Florida against Bush in 1992 with Dad himself. And now, the CNN and NBC pundits (at last count) have some very serious egg on their face and Americans may have a race again.

At 10, Bush picked up some easy wee ones, piling Utah (5), Idaho (4) and Montana (3) into his 217-vote column while Gore's tally dropped 25 to 172 without him doing a thing. (The first changing of House-seat hands has also occurred, with the Democrats picking up an Oklahoma seat.)

And then, at 10:05, Bush took New Hampshire — and Missouri — to hit 212. And at 10:12 he got West Virginia. Holy gasbags, Batman. If we can trust the calls, George W. Bush turns out to be very much alive. He'll need to split Wisconsin, Arkansas, Ohio, Oregon and Washington with the veep to win. But two hours after the Sunshine State first fell into Gore's column and started the electoral dominoes falling, one thing is clear:

The race may hinge on Florida.

9:45 p.m.: EST Minnesota goes Democratic, and Coloradans lend support to gun control and medical marijuana

Gore plugs away while Bush tackles key southern states. The popular vote closes up, which means a Gore win in California could push the veep over the line in both columns.

Ohio (21 electoral votes) goes to Bush, which is a sweet relief to the Governorís campaign, sent reeling by Gore's win in Pennsylvania.

Tennessee (11 electoral votes) also goes to Bush. This is bad news for Gore, who'd hoped to carry his home state. Recent polls, however, showed it leaning to Bush.

Minnesota (10 electoral votes) goes to Gore, chalking up a big win in his column. This state was hotly contested; both candidates spent countless last-minute hours stumping here.

Louisiana (9 electoral votes) goes Republican, which is no surprise to anyone.

New Mexico (5 electoral votes) delivers a much-needed win for Gore.

New York: Hillary's win will rattle Republicans across the country, and could precipitate a groundswell of GOP diehards in key western states

Colorado: Two ballot initiatives go the way of the liberals, as voters approve background checks at gun shows and the use of medical marijuana.

9:15 p.m. EST: Gore wins Pennsylvania, New York, RI, and the tally lead. Hillary makes history in N.Y.

Now it starts to get difficult to imagine a President Bush; Pennsylvania has been called (by CNN and CBS, at least) for Al Gore.

Bush now needs not only Missouri (polls are closed now, by appeals court order, but the Senate race has been called for Carnahan's ghost), Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, Arkansas, Tennessee and West Virginia (and everything else consigned him by prognosticators), but to win the three-way races in Oregon and Washington. Those two will be very late calls.

But the way this is going, Gore's apparent success with minorities — just like Clinton's in 1992 and 1996 — may give him Arkansas and Tennessee and pretty much finish Bush off. And unless the California miracle comes to pass, the Austin folks will catch hell for letting their man spend those two days in the state last week.

In expected victories, Bush takes North Dakota, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming; Gore takes New York and Rhode Island. And Hillary Clinton (you may have heard about this race) will be the first First Lady in the Senate. And the place's new resident liberal. The Senate, by the way, is looking very close.

Two doomsday scenarios, it must be said, are starting to loom. One is a nightmare of inconvenience — Oregon counting its mail-in ballots on Thursday to decide the presidency. The other is a nightmare of legitimacy. Bush is up 54-45 in the popular vote, though there's still plenty of time left. If Gore is to avoid a crisis of popularity, he might just need California as much as Bush does.

8:35 p.m. EST: Gore takes a couple of votes in Maine, and the Dems pick up a new Senate seat

This extraordinarily tight race means West Coast votes are uncharacteristically critical, and the tension may drive more voters to the polls. Wavering Nader/Gore supporters in pivotal Washington and Oregon could be moved to vote for Gore. Dems are pulling for big turnout in the upper Northwest.

Illinois goes to Gore, which, as pundits like to point out, is a symbolic blow to Bush. No Republican has ever won the White House without taking the Land of Lincoln.

Arkansas: Too close to call. According to exit polls, anti-Clinton backlash hurts Gore.

Tennessee: Too close to call. Home-state voters apparently aren't totally enamored of their native son. Too many years in D.C., perhaps.

Maine: Like Nebraskans, Mainers give their electoral votes grudgingly, splitting them between candidates according to vote counts in individual districts. Gore takes three of the votes and leaves the fourth too close to call.

Delaware: Democrat Tom Carper wins over incumbent Republican U.S. Senator William Roth. This is a pickup for the Dems in the carefully watched Senate race.

Connecticut: Joe Lieberman is a winner tonight, hanging on to his U.S. Senate seat. This is a mixed blessing for Dems, who are happy to have the body count but worry about a Republican appointment if Lieberman is otherwise engaged come January.

New Jersey: Democrat Jon Corzine hangs on to Frank Lautenberg's seat in the Senate, defeating Republican Bob Franks. Corzine spent $60 million of his own money, giving a whole new meaning to the term "self-made man."

In the world of ballot measures: A push for vouchers in Michigan suffers a huge defeat.

8:15 p.m. EST: Gore takes Florida, Michigan, Illinois and others — and the black turnout seems to be the deciding factor

Florida has been called for Al Gore. A half-hour after exit pollsters told us the senior citizen vote was dead even and black voters were out in force in the Social Security State, the veep is the first to have his victory scenario snap into focus.

And then it snapped again. And again. At 8:00, Michigan, New Jersey and Illinois went for the veep too, and suddenly George W. Bush, leading the tally at 130-119, was a very big underdog.

Bush's South, minus Florida, is holding up, and the Kansases and the Oklahomas are falling in line, but the Texas governor (who also won Texas, and got North Carolina) needs — NEEDS — Pennsylvania, not to mention two of Minnesota, Oregon and Washington, if he wants to take this thing. (California is shimmering on the horizon, but don't bet on it.) And Delaware, the little barometer state, went for Gore too.

And so the postgame story, like the pregame one, will be about turnout. If Gore wins, the high minority turnout that seems to have delivered Florida, Illinois and Michigan will have won it for him. And that doesn't bode well for Bush in Pennsylvania.

7:30 p.m. EST: Bush takes Georgia and Virginia as a Democrat loses a critical Senate seat

Virginia (13 electoral votes), formerly too close to call, has gone to Bush. Conventional wisdom pointed to a much cleaner win for Bush, so the fact that it took a while to call this traditionally Republican state could be read as a hopeful note for Al Gore. In a critical Senate race, Democratic incumbent Charles Robb lost his seat to Republican George Allen.

Georgia also goes to Bush, pushing his count to 54. This was an expected victory for Bush, so his camp is undoubtedly wiping a sheen of flop-sweat from their foreheads.

Other poll updates:

West Virginia: Too close to call. Gore is considered weak among the state's working class, including the so-called "coal contingent," who voted for Clinton but view the vice president's environmental fervor with a degree of suspicion and fear.

Ohio: Too close to call. One of the critical "swing states" we've heard so much about in the last few months, Ohio almost always pulls for the Republican candidate. This nail-biter is, for the moment, anyway, good news for Gore.

North Carolina: Too close to call. Democrats tend to do well among the state's older voters, but a strong conservative streak bodes well for Republicans. N.C. was expected to go to Bush, so the voters' wobbling is not a welcome discovery for the governor.

7:00 p.m. EST: Polls close in Florida, New Hampshire, Georgia without a winner; Bush takes Virginia, S.C.; Gore gets on the board with Vermont

The polls are closed in Florida, and the first big early indicator state is... too close to call. So is New Hampshire, and Georgia. At the 7:00 mark, George W. Bush has added South Carolina and Virginia's 21 to his total, and Al Gore nabbed Vermont to get on the board with three. No surprises. The big news is on hold.

Florida was supposed to quite possibly decide this election — and it's doing just that by keeping us in suspense. The Social Security State, being a southern state full of northeastern transplants, isn't much of a leading indicator for other states; the 25 votes are the thing. New Hampshire and its high concentration of McCainiacs could point to free-thinking states like Minnesota, Maine and possibly the Oregon/Washington combo. Georgia might presage the city-vs.-country turnout contest that could tip, say, Pennsylvania.

And we don't know a new thing about any of them. But there is a good omen for Gore in Missouri: At the urging of Democrats hoping Carnahan's ghost (and Clinton's) can win on turnout, a St. Louis judge has just ruled that the polls, clogged with voters, will remain open late.

Apparently, so will we.

6:00 p.m. EST Polls closed in:

Indiana (12 electoral votes): Goes to Bush. No great surprise for a state that's only voted Democratic once in the last few decades. Senator Lugar, the Republican incumbent, easily defeats the Democratic challenger. Governor Frank O'Bannon, the Democratic incumbent, also keeps his seat.

Kentucky (8 electoral votes): Bush takes the Bluegrass State, which has voted consistently for the winner since 1964. Dubya was undoubtedly helped by his laissez-faire attitude toward tobacco interests and industrial pollution (versus Gore, who is vehemently anti-tobacco and pro-environment).

Note to readers: This portion of the update is based on thoroughly undocumented and undependable gossip. Please go vote if you haven't already.

Democratic and Republican "insiders" are both pointing to a Hillary Clinton victory in the New York race for U.S. Senate. Some pundits speculate the First Lady could win by more than five points. Even if these lofty predictions don't hold, the documented high voter turnout in N.Y.'s Democratic base (minorities and women) is good news for Hillary any way you cut it.

In Missouri, Sen. John Ashcroft looks to be running neck-and-neck with the late Gov. Mel Carnahan, whose wife, Jean, has agreed to take her husband's seat if necessary. Ashcroft is undoubtedly feeling extremely grouchy about his attempt to be Mr. Nice Guy a few weeks ago, when he suspended his campaign out of deference to Carnahan.

5:30 p.m.: The first shocking development: People are voting. Lots and lots of them.

The pundits are still in suspense. The booths are still open. The early exit polls — well, never mind the early exit polls. The only thing anybody knows right now (besides Matt Drudge, who knows everything unnamed GOP insiders know) is that a whole lot of people are showing up to vote.

At least it seems that way. Booth-watchers in New York, Illinois, Michigan, Florida, Oregon, Washington, California (76 percent projected, the highest in 20 years) and any other key state you can name have all reported historically heavy voter traffic at the polls, despite the weather (rain in the Midwest battlegrounds, snow in Texas) or perhaps because of it (sun in Florida and California). In St. Louis, Democrats have petitioned a judge to extend voting hours due to a traffic jam at the polls. There are murmurings that the 2000 election, which America was purported to be ignoring despite the race's relentless suspense, may turn out to have been a compelling one after all.

Strategically, this election has been all about turnout for a while, and the Democrats are certainly heartened at the early indications. The last roundups by unions, black churches, urban organizers and seniors groups are critical to a Gore victory Tuesday, and the unions, at least, spared no expense. But some of those high-turnout spotlights are suburbs — generally Republican areas — and the possibility remains that this outpouring of humanity, if it pans out, is one of Republican zeal.

Or both. Or neither. They may cancel each other out. But give the early lead to democracy.