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banner Wednesday, 8 November, 2000, 16:25 GMT
Texas roller coaster
jubilant Bush supporters in Austin
Jubilation in Austin as Bush wins Ohio and Tennessee
By Philippa Thomas in Austin, Texas

No movie producer could have scripted this election night to better dramatic effect.

In Austin, Texas, I spent the night perched high above the crowd gathered outside the grand State Capitol building in the heart of the city.

As the numbers below swelled from the curious few to the spellbound thousands, the weather added to the drama, throwing down torrential rain and buffeting us with heavy winds.

As we clung on to the flimsy media scaffolding built five storeys high, we were supposed to be delivering the presidential election result to the world. Instead, life got increasingly surreal.

Bush applauds early returns
An emotional roller coaster ride for George W Bush

At the start of the count, the outlook was gloomy. The BBC's team with Al Gore in Nashville was teasing us: "Looks like we have the winner".

In Austin, media mutters were circulating: maybe Governor Bush was just too confident, looks like the Republicans were heading for a fall.

When Florida was called early on - of course, far too early on - for the Democrats, the mood turned subdued, even sour.

Ups and downs

Down below me, the bands played on: jolly mariachi and rousing country music. The speakers implored the crowd to give them one more cheer for Texas, to applaud for the predictions of rousing victory.

But in the first few hours, the Republican faithful we spoke to were looking rather grim. They would rather have died than say it into my microphone, but many felt the night was slipping away from them.

The party began with the huge widescreen televisions projecting state-by-state results. But as the big battleground states were called for Gore - Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan - we had longer and longer gaps between the updates, the programmes pulled in favour of uplifting campaign videos featuring George W Bush and family and friends.

Most symbolic of all, when the face of a beaming Hillary Clinton popped up - as the First Lady won the New York Senate race - the jeers were deafening, and the screen quickly went to black.

So imagine everyone's surprise - not least the media, who thought it was all over - when we heard the cheers start up again. The torrents were still coming down on us, but the tide was starting to turn.

Smiling faces were back again, as the next raft of predictions began: that Governor Bush was pulling in some key swing states, such as Ohio and Tennessee.

Florida turnaround

And then of course - the big change over Florida. Florida was too close to call, and the Bush fans were jumping up and down again, shouting themselves hoarse, waving their umbrellas happily in the air.

Well after midnight I watched as more people streamed in through the security cordons, Texans coming to the late-night party, wanting to be where the action was, wanting to be part of a race that was already making election history.

When Austin woke up this Wednesday morning, of course, it was still too close to call. At the governor's mansion, an imposing southern residence just minutes from the party, the Bush family must have been able to hear the cheers and jeers clearly through the night.

But as dawn broke, all was quiet, and only the porch light burning. Secret service agents were on patrol outside.

Mr Bush must have been trying to snatch a few hours of sleep. But was he dreaming about a valiant effort that fell short of victory, or dreaming about putting his own stamp on history as the 43rd president of the United States?

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Links to more Vote USA 2000 stories are at the foot of the page.


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