On this day in 2000, Al Gore concedes the presidential election to George W. Bush. The nation had just survived more than a month of partisan bickering, recounts, and lawsuits. Who would win Florida’s 25 electors? The dispute had consumed the nation’s attention for 36 long days.
Do you remember how crazy that month of uncertainty was? None of us saw that one coming!
To the contrary, Democrats had been pretty optimistic on Election Day. Florida was called for Gore early in the evening, at 7:49 p.m., giving Gore an apparent head start. States such as Michigan and Minnesota were soon also placed in the Gore column as well. When the networks called New Mexico for Gore at 9:44 p.m., his staff was jubilant. Gore appeared to be on the path to victory.
Gore’s campaign spokesman later called those few minutes of ecstatic celebration “our seven-minute presidency.”
Their joy was short-lived. Mere minutes later, the early call for Florida was retracted. Instead, the networks began calling Florida—and the presidential race—for Bush. At 2:16 a.m., Al Gore called Bush to concede the race, then left for Nashville’s War Memorial Plaza, where he planned to offer his formal concession speech.
He never made it to the stage.
At least one man in his campaign, Michael Whouley, was still counting votes. He wasn’t so sure the mainstream media had it right. The margin in Florida was getting smaller and smaller. He thought Gore still had a shot at it—and he knew he had to get that information to Gore.
The situation was even more urgent than he realized. By then, Gore and his team were already in limousines, approaching the plaza where he planned to formally concede. Imagine how history would have changed if Whouley had not been able to get a hold of Gore until after that concession speech! Would Gore still have pursued a recount in Florida under such circumstances?
Of course, history did not play out in quite that way. Instead, one of Gore’s advance men received Whouley’s message at the last minute. He sprinted to catch up to Gore, barely catching the candidate as he was about to mount the stairs to the Memorial Plaza stage.
Another minute or two, and it would have been too late.
What a close call! Nevertheless, Gore was stopped. He stepped back from the stage and called George W. Bush to retract his concession.
“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?” Bush would ask him during that phone call. “Let me make sure that I understand. You’re calling back to retract [your] concession?”
“You don’t have to be snippy about it,” Gore reportedly responded.
In the end, of course, the lawsuits and recounts resulted in a Bush victory in Florida. Bush would win the presidential election with a bare majority of 271 electoral votes, making him one of a small handful of men to win the White House without also winning the national popular vote.
Was the outcome fair? You know at this point I have to remind you that a full defense of the Electoral College appears in my new book.
2000 Events Timeline–Post-Election, Dave Leip’s Atlas of Presidential Elections, (last visited Mar. 10, 2017)
James Mann, George W. Bush (Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. & Sean Wilentz eds., 2015)
Jeffrey Toobin, Too Close to Call: The Thirty-Six-Day Battle to Decide the 2000 Election (2001)
Tara Ross, The Indispensable Electoral College (2017)