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DECISION 2000

Bush Victorious

President-Elect Calls for Unity and Prayer After Gore Concedes Defeat in Longest Contest in a Century

Election: The 36-day battle in the courts ends with the vice president urging supporters to close ranks behind new chief. The former rivals will meet in Washington next week.

December 14, 2000|EDWIN CHEN and MARK Z. BARABAK | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

AUSTIN, Texas — After 36 days of waiting, Texas Gov. George W. Bush laid claim to the White House Wednesday night with a promise to reach beyond the rancor of the postelection battle and build a government of reconciliation and bipartisanship.

Invoking Abraham Lincoln's famous words, Bush said, "Our nation must rise above a house divided."

"I was not elected to serve one party, but to serve one nation," the soon-to-be 43rd president told an audience of 400 supporters and other invited guests seated inside the chamber of the Texas House of Representatives. Bush said he chose the solemn setting because he was able to work there with Democrats and Republicans alike.

"We had spirited disagreements and, in the end, we found constructive consensus," Bush said in a nationally televised address. "It is an experience I will always carry with me and an example I will always follow."

In one of several grace notes in a 10-minute speech filled with references to healing and unity, Bush reached out to his vanquished rival and expressed empathy for Vice President Al Gore and his family at their time of deepest disappointment. "He has a distinguished record of service to our country as a congressman, a senator and as vice president," Bush said.

Gore preceded Bush's speech with a conciliatory address of his own.

"While there will be time enough to debate our continuing differences, now is the time to recognize that that which unites us is greater than that which divides us," Gore said in a nationally televised speech from his office in Washington.

Just before, he telephoned Bush to congratulate him. In his speech, Gore joked he would not retract this concession, the way he did after telephoning Bush in the frazzled early morning hours following the Nov. 7 election.

Acknowledging his disappointment, Gore nevertheless urged his supporters to "unite behind our new president."

He made plain his disappointment with Tuesday night's U.S. Supreme Court decision that effectively sealed Bush's election. But, Gore went on, "I accept it. . . . And tonight, for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession."

He quoted Stephen A. Douglas' remarks when he lost the presidency to Lincoln nearly 150 years ago: "Partisan feeling must yield to patriotism. I'm with you, Mr. President, and God bless you."

"Well, in that same spirit," Gore went on, "I say to President-elect Bush that what remains of partisan rancor must now be put aside, and may God bless his stewardship of this country."

In their brief phone conversation, Bush and Gore made plans to meet in Washington on Tuesday, the first time the two will be together since Oct. 17, when they shared a stage at the final presidential debate in St. Louis.

The improbable events that followed were something neither candidate anticipated, as they acknowledged in their back-to-back speeches.

Seizing on the circumstances, Bush said he hoped "the long wait of the last five weeks will heighten a desire to move beyond the bitterness and partisanship of the recent past."

"I am optimistic that we can change the tone of Washington, D.C.," Bush said at another point. ". . . Americans share hopes and goals and values far more important than any political disagreements. Republicans want the best for our nation. So do Democrats. Our votes may differ, but not our hopes."

In winning the White House, Bush becomes the first presidential candidate since Benjamin Harrison in 1888 to lose the national popular vote but win the presidency, thanks to his 271 votes in the electoral college. Gore finished with 267 electoral votes, three shy of the number needed to win.

Bush also becomes the first son to follow his father into the White House since John Quincy Adams was elected in 1825.

In his address, Bush did not discuss in any detail the issues on which he campaigned, though he did summon his trademark slogan and reprised much of his standard stump speech.

"Together, we will address some of society's deepest problems, one person at a time, by encouraging and empowering the good hearts and good works of the American people," Bush said. "This is the essence of compassionate conservatism, and it will be a foundation of my administration."

But advancing his agenda will not be easy. Given the realities of a divided nation and the political climate on Capitol Hill, analysts and even many Republican allies have said that Bush will probably have to trim his across-the-board tax cut and perhaps shelve his plan to partly privatize Social Security.

But they said that prospects are brighter for reducing the "marriage penalty" and estate taxes, and perhaps enacting prescription drug coverage for seniors, although significant differences remain between Bush's approach and that advocated by most Democrats.

Bush has indicated that, as president, his priority would be education reform, continuing the work he did as governor.

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