It Ain't Over Yet

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Workers search through stacks of voter registration files in Fort Lauderdale

"I've been in politics a very long time, and I don't believe I've ever seen a night like this one."

That was how Al Gore's campaign manager Bill Daley began when he broke the happy news to a Nashville crowd that the 2000 presidential election, just after 4 a.m., was not over yet.

"About two hours ago, the network called this election for Governor Bush," Daley said to Trumanesque cheers. "It is now apparent their call was premature." More cheers. "Until this is resolved, the campaign continues."

And the Gore camp wasn't just posturing: With only a handful of ballots remaining to be counted, Governor Bush reportedly led by less than 1,000 votes — well below the half-percentage-point margin that automatically triggers a recount in the state. And that means America may have to wait for most of Wednesday, or even longer, to learn the name of its next president.

The logjam followed a night of seesawing exit polling in Florida. The networks had called the state for Al Gore at 8 p.m. ET and pointed him toward victory; at 2:17 a.m. they called it for George W. Bush and declared him the president-elect. Two baffling hours later, Florida election officials had declared the race for the deciding state too close to call at under 1,000 votes' separation — by some reports, 229 — and planned an automatic recount that could take all day Wednesday. Gore had phoned Bush back and retracted his concession. And the closest election in 40 years changed into the closest election in American history — and the craziest.

And it's ongoing. The next president will look out from the Oval Office at a Congress just ever-so-slightly Republican and a nation that was still deciding at 5 a.m. whom it preferred on the whole. But at this point, the governing seems a lifetime away.

"We hope and believed we have elected the next president of the United States," explained Don Evans, Daley's counterpart with the Bush campaign, to the Austin gathering at 4:30 a.m. "I'm confident when it's all said and done, we will prevail."

And then the crowd went home, unsatisfied.