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Presidential Race Too Close to Call; Florida's Vote Count Key to Election Outcome

Aired November 8, 2000 - 9:00 a.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: A new day, but still no new president. The White House is still up for grabs.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: It is a presidential election still too close to call on this the morning after, and the state that holds the key is the Sunshine State in the southeast, Florida.

Welcome. Nine a.m. on the east coast, 7:00 a.m. out west, 8:00 a.m. in Austin, Texas, also in Nashville, Tennessee this morning.

KAGAN: Yes, today is Wednesday, November 8th, the day after election day, and yet there's still so much to figure out. We're at CNN Center in Atlanta, and this, of course, is CNN "MORNING NEWS." Good morning, everyone, I'm Daryn Kagan.

HEMMER: And I'm Bill Hemmer, good morning as well. In the age of the Internet, where things move so fast right now, everybody is treading water frozen in their steps right now as we still await the ultimate outcome of this election that is really anybody's guess.

KAGAN: Simply to say if you went to sleep last night, you missed one of the most exciting nights in political history. And we have the whole wrap-up for you, looking back and also looking ahead at where this race is headed.

HEMMER: Yes, And if you ever felt the old saying "every vote counts" was never more appropriate than it is now right now, the race for the White House now still hanging in the balance. And again the state holding the key is Florida, the key to this outcome in election year 2000.

KAGAN: As you've seen, it has been an incredible turn of events over the last 14 hours. Early this morning Republican George W. Bush appeared to have won the state of Florida and the presidency. And then, that was thrown into doubt.

It now hinges -- the election now hinges -- on a recount in Florida.

Let's take a look at the latest numbers: Bush leading Al Gore in Florida by fewer than 1,800 votes, with absentee ballots still being counted at this hour.

HEMMER: In the electoral vote count, Gore leading Bush 260 to 246.

Again, an undecided question in the Southeast in Florida, and also in the Pacific Northwest in the state of Oregon, both still undecided at this time.

KAGAN: We will have extensive coverage and commentary and analysis throughout the morning on this cliffhanger election. Our Mark Potter is in Miami following the crucial developments in Florida, and our Washington bureau chief Frank Sesno will be along to talk about the presidential race, as well, the other big story out there, the balance of power in Congress.

HEMMER: First, though, this morning, want to check in with our correspondents covering the candidates. First, Jeanne Meserve with the Bush camp in Austin, Texas, and CNN's Jonathan Karl with the Nashville camp in the Gore campaign.

First to Jeanne Meserve, in Texas, good morning.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Bill. We went out this morning to find an "Austin American Statesman." That's the local paper. We wanted to show you the headline. We were having trouble finding the paper because they've been through so many editions through the night as this race has gone back and forth.

They did finally put out a final. This is what it says: "History on Hold." Certainly an accurate headline this morning because we just don't know where things stand.

I can tell you that the campaign appears to have be -- it appears to be, at the moment, in a state of suspended animation. Phone calls aren't being answered, messages aren't being returned. We aren't sure if everybody's just gone home to take a shower and get an hour's sleep after an excruciating night or whether they have just decided not to say anything until the picture becomes a little bit more clear.

At last report, the campaign remained confident that they will be able to pull this out. They believe when all the votes are counted in Florida, it go in their favor.

They are pinning hopes in particular on overseas absentee ballots. There were more than 2,000 of these in 1996, and when all was said and done, they split in favor of Bob Dole. The Bush campaign very hopeful that that is going to be the case again today.

The only sight we've had of the governor was last night at the governor's mansion, where he was hunkered down with his parents, the former president and first lady, and with wife, Laura, to watch the election runs. At that point, Florida was in the Gore column, and Bush was saying, hey, hold on, wait just a minute.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm upbeat. I don't believe that some of the states that they've called, like Florida, I just don't believe that we've got enough evidence to be able to call the state. We're actually counting the votes, and as I told you, in some of these counties where we had vote total projection, we're doing better than we thought. And -- but I feel fine.


MESERVE: The headline here, once again, this campaign confident. It believes, in the end, Florida will go to Bush, and the race will go to Bush, but we don't know if or when that, indeed, is going to happen -- Bill.

HEMMER: And Jeanne, for a lot of us, last night has run into this morning. It seems like one giant day, the comments from the Texas governor happened about 12 hours ago, as you well know. But about five hours ago, where you're standing, there was a rather large crowd that had gathered, possibly for a victory celebration. That did not happen. Rather surreal how they just disbursed and went home. Is anybody left at this point?

MESERVE: Not a soul. Just the reporters. I can tell you it was jammed here last night. There were thousands of people despite absolutely atrocious weather. It was windy. It was cold. It's still raining and nasty here. They stood out here for hours watching the election returns, their hopes going up and down and up and down as the evening progressed.

After Don Evans came over and spoke to them -- he's the campaign manager -- he came over and said, we're waiting but we think we've got it.

They all left. When I came back this morning, dark, quiet and still. Only us chickens here, Bill.

HEMMER: Strange days, indeed. Jeanne Meserve in Austin, we'll be back in touch, certainly, throughout the day here. Now to Daryn for more.

KAGAN: Well, if there's one group of supporters that understand how the Bush supporters are feeling, it would be the Gore supporters who are standing by in Nashville that had equally topsy-turvy night.

Our Jonathan Karl's standing by in Nashville. Jonathan, good morning.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Daryn, as all eyes turn to Florida, the Gore campaign has dispatched about 70 people here from Nashville to go down to Florida -- it's a delegation led by Ron Klain, he's a senior Gore adviser, formerly the vice president's chief of staff at the white house -- they've gone down to Florida to oversee this recounting. It's about 70 people there en route as we speak.

All eyes on Florida. The vice president and his team looking down -- and they still think they have hope in Florida. The margin is so close. They look to Broward county, which is one of the counties where they expect more votes to still be coming in, Broward county a heavily Democratic county according to Gore aides, one with a high population --heavy population of Jewish voter as well as Haitian voters, both groups in Florida they expect to be strongly Gore.

So they think they very much still have a chance at this. But, of course, several hours ago, in the middle of the night, at about 2:30 local time, they didn't think that, the vice president had written his concession speech. He had come here to the War Memorial Plaza in Nashville to deliver that concession speech. He was all set to do that when he got word that things in Florida had not been what they seemed. They were much closer and still very much in doubt.

And that's when we got in this state of flux. This morning, the deputy campaign manager for Al Gore, Mark Fabiani, spoke to us and said that at that point last night, paraphrasing Mark Twain, reports of the Gore campaign's death where greatly exaggerated.


MARK FABIANI, GORE CAMPAIGN MANAGER: It was quite a night. We're very proud of Al Gore this morning, all of us who have worked for him. He won the popular vote, He got the most votes across the entire length and breadth of this country. So we're very proud of him, and we're looking forward to a quick resolution of the Florida vote count so that Al Gore can be the next president of the United States.


KARL: Even if George W. Bush ends up winning Florida right now, Al Gore, as Fabiani referred to, is ahead in the popular vote, raising the possibility that he may have won more votes than George W. Bush nationwide, but still would lose election.

A very unusual split. I asked vice president Gore on October 29th about just such a scenario, and if a president who was elected without winning the popular vote could effectively govern? Here's what he said back then.


VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that's an attenuated hypothetical. It's a point of praise. It actually has happened before in our history. I think it's unlikely to happen. Again, it could. But in...

TIPPER GORE: We won't know until November the 7th.

GORE: We won't know until November the 7th, but in all such cases, we are fortunate as a people to have a constitution that resolves all doubt as to what would happen in that situation.

KARL: Do you think that president would have a hard time governing?

GORE: No, I don't think so. But I don't think it's going to happen. If it did happen, I think the constitution would be respected, as it always is.


KARL: Now, at that point, speculation was just the reverse of what it is now. At that point, the speculation was the possibility that vice president Gore would lose the popular vote but win in the electoral college and then become president -- the reverse of what could happen if George W. Bush wins Florida. Back to you -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Jonathan, just one of the many surprises that we face this morning, the morning after. As the 70 staffers head down to Florida, what is the vice president doing today?

KARL: Well, the vice president, at about 3:45 local time, concluded a brief meeting with his senior staff over at the Lowes Hotel and then did something he hadn't done for almost 50 hours: He went to bed. So we can assume right now he is still sound asleep, went to bed at about 3:45 local time.

KAGAN: Getting some sleep. Well, Jonathan Karl, thank you very much, from Nashville -- Bill.

HEMMER: And again, Daryn, the key is in Florida: 25 electoral votes still undecided at this time. But a whole lot of questions about possibilities right know.

Live to Miami, more with Mark Potter tracking things from there. Mark, what are they saying at this hour, 9:00 a.m. Eastern time there?

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bill, you're right. Lots of questions and not many answers. We're trying to get the details of this recount that going to be held, but we're not being very successful on getting the specific details.

All we know is that we have had a very wild ride here in Florida overnight and this morning. Floridians don't know who to root for, and they're very confused. And now we hear there's to be this recount, but we don't know specifically how that's going to be conducted. What we do know is that Bob Butterworth -- the attorney general, who also is Al Gore's campaign manager -- and election officials here are saying that this recount is actually mandated by Florida law in a case like this where the count is so close.

They seem to agree on that. What we can't get are too many details on exactly how this is going to be done. We're waiting for a statement from the secretary of state or from the division of elections. We're promised that will come sometime, hopefully today, hopefully soon, but it hasn't happened yet.

Now Mr. Butterworth is saying that based on past experiences, the supervisors of elections in each county would be responsible for the count in their counties. They would take the ballots which they already have in hand, put them back through their computers again, or count them by hand. If machines are used, they have to be recalibrated back to zero to start the process all over again. Mr. Butterworth is also suggesting that these counts be monitored so that there's no question about the validity of the count, suggesting that officials from the campaigns, from both campaigns, be allowed to watch in each county. Other officials, perhaps a judge and media representatives, allowed inside to keep an eye on how things are done.

It's a suggestion, it's a presumption that it'll happen that way, but again we're waiting for the specific details. Hopefully, we'll have that information for you soon.

Now, another question that we have is what happens with the oversees absentee ballots? These do not have to be returned -- postmarked -- for another 10 days and then returned to be counted. Typically, that doesn't matter very much in elections where there's a wide count. But in an election like this, where the count is just a few hundred votes between candidates, these ballots could make a difference. There were 2,700 of them in 1996.

All a bit confusing, and as you can imagine, the topic of conversation throughout Florida. Everybody's talking about it, and for more on that, let's go to my colleague John Zarrella, who's just up the road in Broward county, Florida.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Mark, I'm here in Fort Lauderdale and at Lester's (ph) Diner, and as you said, and as everyone might imagine, that in the state of Florida, where the eyes of the nation are focused this morning, that's what the talk is all about. It's about what happened overnight, what's still to happen, and how close a race it was beyond anyone's wildest expectations.

Everybody knew Florida was going to be a very, very tough state, a battleground state, but no one had any imagination or idea it would have come this close. And here's a good example of what I'm talking about: the very first final edition of The Miami Herald that came out overnight claimed "Bush Wins It." A couple hours later, The Miami Herald comes out with a second final edition that says, "Not Over Yet; Bush Lead in Florida Dissipates." And finally, the "Sun-Sentinel," the Fort Lauderdale newspaper, played it pretty close to the vest: "Cliffhangers," up in the air, Bush, Gore.

But a good example of just how close it is and how tough it has been for everyone here in -- Florida's befuddled everyone from the beginning from early last night through today an continues to befuddle folks everywhere as to just how close this race is. Now, joining us to talk about their feelings, their surprise at all this, Clifford and Viola (ph).

And Clifford, we were talking before. This is really unprecedented.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it is, and I don't know what's going to happen. Hopefully, my man wins, which is not Bush. It's too late to politic now, but I hope it turns out my way.

ZARRELLA: And really, as we've been also been talking, Viola, the fact that in this election, because of the nature of how close it is, it really proves that -- and we hear it all the time -- every vote counts. Your vote counts?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, it does. Every vote counts. I've really said when -- if Bush wins, I'd never vote again. But I -- that's just...

ZARRELLA: Thank you so much for taking time to spend with us, and again, Mark as you were saying it could be late this afternoon, but nobody really knows exactly when the recount will be concluded and how long it will be before the nation knows, the world knows, who the next president will be -- Mark.

POTTER: Thank you, John, exactly right, and a lot of people are watching this very closely, and when we get the details we'll share it with everybody. This is Mark Potter, CNN, reporting live from Miami.

HEMMER: All right guys, right now you are at ground zero. Bob Butterworth also suggested earlier today that they're used to recounts in Florida. I'm not quite sure where he got that evidence, but maybe we can shake that down a bit later out of the state of Florida as well and get to the bottom of that.

KAGAN: We can do that.

Watching this day after with us today is our Washington bureau chief Frank Sesno, handling it from the nation's capital -- Frank.

FRANK SESNO, CNN WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Good to see you both. Taking a look at the nation's capital, what's it going to be like, what's the prospect for your 401(k), or a tax cut. We'll take a look at that when we come back.



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