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Thursday, 9 November, 2000, 17:35 GMT
The night America won't forget
Gore supporters in Tennessee
Democrat supporters resort to prayer
By BBC New Online's Tarik Kafala

The high drama and swinging fortunes of United States presidential election night are likely to leave a deep impression on Americans.

The still undecided election was so close that previously reliable exit polls threw up results that were simply wrong.

George Bush
Mr Bush scents victory
The US news networks suffered the ignominy of calling Florida for Democrat Al Gore, then they were unsure and then they gave it to Republican George W Bush.

Some networks sent Americans to bed thinking that Mr Bush was president.

The fallibility of the exit polls in predicting results and the possibility of one candidate winning the popular vote and another the electoral college vote have already brought calls for electoral reform.

Early returns

The early returns, starting at 1800 Washington time (2300 GMT) after the close of polling on the east coast, went as expected.

Florida, as many had anticipated, was too close to call.

The Florida result will push one candidate into the lead
Then, an hour after the polls in Florida closed, came a massive boost for the Gore camp.

At 2000 Washington time, the state was declared by all the US news networks to have gone to the Democrat.

With its 25 electoral college votes, this was a crucial victory, and allowed nervous Democrat supporters studying the numbers to plot a route for their man to the White House.

Republican doubts

But back at Republican head quarters in Austin, Texas, the Florida result was not being conceded.

"The networks called this thing awfully early, but the people counting the votes are coming up with a little different perspective," Mr Bush said.

Democrat Al Gore
Al Gore conceded defeat and then retracted
"I'm pretty darn upbeat about things."

Other than these doubts, the formbook held, with two battleground state, Pennsylvania and Michigan, going to Gore, and Ohio going to Bush.

Soon after Mr Bush's comments, and about two hours after calling the state for Gore, the news networks retracted their decision on Florida.

Suddenly the state was again "too close to call", and the race was thrown wide open.

All down to Florida

As the night wore on, nerves became increasingly frayed.

Until Mr Gore won California, with its 54 electoral college votes, the picture looked bleak for the Democrat.

Bush-Gore exchange

Bush: "Let me make sure I understand. You're calling me back to retract your concession?"

Gore: "You don't have to get snippy about this"

Then the Democrat won another battleground state, Iowa.

This meant that it was all down to Florida - that neither candidate could win without it.

The returns from the precincts in Florida increasingly suggested a Bush win.

Then about two hours and 20 minutes after the last voting ended in Alaska, Florida was declared by the US news networks for Mr Bush.

That apparently was it. The Republican was to become the 43rd President of the United States of America.

Conceding and not conceding

Twenty minutes later Mr Gore called his opponent to concede defeat.

Recounting the vote in Miami, Florida
At the Republican headquarters in Austin, Texas the gathered party activists were celebrating, waiting for their man to appear on stage to make his victory speech.

Less that half an hour after his first call, Mr Gore called again to retract his concession of defeat - the result was so close that Florida law required an automatic recount.

An irritable little exchange then followed between the two candidates.

A flabbergasted Bush, who is reported to have had his victory speech in hand, asked: "Let me make sure I understand. You're calling me back to retract your concession?"

"You don't have to get snippy (upset) about this," Mr Gore replied.


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