Divided government emerges as winner

The Associated Press
Friday November 10, 2000


WASHINGTON — In an election for the ages, the presidency remains in doubt, the House remains Republican by the slenderest of threads and the GOP Senate majority teeters, depending in part on the longevity of 97-year-old Strom Thurmond. 

And not even Thurmond, who first won local office in 1928, has ever seen another election like this one. 

And as close as it is – George W. Bush and Al Gore each went to bed early Wednesday morning with victory a possibility in the race for the White House – divided government emerged the winner by far. It’s a safe bet little thought has been given to building a governing majority in a country that split its ballots almost exactly down the middle. 

“Our campaign continues,” Gore’s campaign manager William Daley told hopeful Democrats waiting out a long, rainy night in Nashville. 

“Unbelievable,” said Bush adviser Karen Hughes after Gore called the Texas governor to retract a concession offered in an earlier conversation. 

Clearly, tax cuts, health care, Medicare and a debate over the defense missile shield will have to wait for another day. Confirming new Supreme Court justices, if any retire, should be interesting. 

Should Bush win Florida and the White House with it, his call for an era of civility in Washington will be almost wholly dependent on the Democratic leaders in Congress.  

Should Gore take the oath of office on Jan. 20, 2001, he’d be confronted with at least one chamber of Congress controlled by the political opposition. 

Organizing the House for business figures to be, if anything, more complicated than it has been the past two years. 

Republicans must elect new chairmen to replace those who were term-limited in the heady days of the Contract with America six years ago. Democratic leader Dick Gephardt has yet to publicly discuss the results of the House elections, or offer any hint of his own plans. 

“Dick Gephardt’s goal was to run against a do-nothing Congress,” Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said in an election-night interview.  

“Now is the time to put politics aside.” 

The House trend showed Republicans in control, but with a handful of races still out, likely to suffer losses in their already meager majority. 

In the Senate, Democrats whittled the Republican advantage by half or more. With a Washington state race still too close to call, the GOP held a majority of 50-49.  

But that could yet change if Gore wins the White House and Sen. Joseph Lieberman resigns his Senate seat to become vice president. 

If so, his seat would go to a Republican by virtue of Connecticut GOP Gov. John Rowland’s authority to appoint a replacement. 

Other possible departures are talked about openly by aides in both parties. 

Thurmond, for example, who walks unsteadily on the arm of an aide, is two years from the end of his term. 

All of this makes some of the other remarkable developments of the evening seem mundane by comparison. 

New Yorkers elected first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton to the Senate, a first for the spouse of a president.  

Now her husband will have the opportunity to attend her oath-taking in the very chamber where he was tried on impeachment charges two years ago. 

Missouri voters cast their ballots for a dead man, the late Gov. Mel Carnahan, with full knowledge that his widow will be appointed to that seat. 

Carnahan’s victory at the ballot box is unlikely to be the last word on that race, though. Republicans have talked openly of a lawsuit, noting that the Constitution requires a senator to be “an inhabitant” of their state when elected. 

Beyond that, the GOP leadership would be confronted with a decision of whether to challenge Mrs. Carnahan’s credentials. 

The presidential race alone was closer than any in history. 

By a lot. 

In 1968, Richard M. Nixon barely beat Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey by 0.7 percent of the vote.  

In 1960, John F. Kennedy defeated Nixon by 0.2 percent of the vote. But in both those cases, the Electoral College outcome was clear. 

This time, with votes tallied from 96 percent of the precincts, Gore had 47,242,846 and Bush had 47,101,968 votes.  

Green Party candidate Ralph Nader was at 3 percent and Pat Buchanan barely registered. 

The Electoral College showed Bush with 246 votes and Gore 255. It takes 270 to win. Florida, Oregon and New Mexico were unsettled, but the Sunshine State was the key. And there, nearly 12 hours after the polls closed, Bush held a lead of fewer than 2,000 votes. 

Recount to follow.