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DECISION 2000

Gore Works to the End for Every Last Vote

November 08, 2000|MICHAEL FINNEGAN and JAMES GERSTENZANG | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

NASHVILLE — Around his dinner table, cheers erupted when television reports predicted Vice President Al Gore would prevail Tuesday night in Florida, Michigan and Illinois. And then, the quick repast out of the way, Gore returned to the business at hand: rounding up more votes.

With the same determination that drove his indefatigable campaigning for more than a year, he worked the telephones, calling radio stations in a rolling march westward, prodding voters to the polls. To Arkansas, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado.

But not so fast.

An hour later, Gore spokesman Douglas Hattaway appeared in a Nashville briefing room to explain that the networks had "recalled" Florida and placed it in the tossup column. Hattaway delivered the unexpected news matter-of-factly, with only a hint of concern.

But in nearby War Memorial Plaza, thousands of Gore loyalists groaned as word of Florida's undecided status worked its way through the crowd. As results of other states became known, they shook their heads, jumped up and down or bit their nails.

It was that kind of night as the mood rolled up and down with the turnabout speed of Gore in debate: hot, then cold, and then somewhere in between.

It also included more campaigning. Gore had spent much of the afternoon giving interviews by satellite to television stations in media markets key to his strategy for victory, including Philadelphia; Kansas City, Mo.; St. Louis, Detroit, Albuquerque; and Memphis, Tenn.

The calls, unorthodox compared to more conventional years when campaigning stops on election eve, reflected just how tight the race was all season--and just how much Gore was scraping for every vote.

By Tuesday night at War Memorial Plaza, ground zero for the crowds waiting to celebrate if Gore emerged the victor in the presidential race, a parade of gospel and country and western singers took the stage. But few in the crowd paid attention. Instead, they huddled in small groups, anxiously comparing information.

What's the latest count? people asked each other again and again.

The streets of Nashville erupted in cheers as the two giant television screens in front showed Gore taking California and the lead in the electoral college votes. People embraced, high-fived and children ran around screaming, "We're going to win! We're going to win!"

Many sat on the curb, heads cocked, pressing ears to cell phones or small radios.

The crowd was clearly ready for good news. So when comedian Elayne Boosler, the emcee of the night, shouted, "Thank you for coming to honor Al Gore, the next president of the United States," hundreds of supporters roared their approval.

The vice president, Hattaway said Tuesday, had slept not a wink since he arose Monday about 4 a.m. to begin a campaign-ending blitz. Gore's cautious insistence on fighting to the last minute was in keeping with his final campaign swing, a 30-hour marathon that concluded at dawn on election day in Tampa, Fla.

Later, Gore returned to his home town of Carthage, Tenn., where he had a lunch of fried chicken and mashed potatoes with his mother at her home.

Gore and his family cast their votes in Elmwood at the Forks River Elementary School gymnasium, where he met with children gathered on the floor.

"When you vote, you pick people to represent you and to make decisions that affect our country and affect our lives," he told the kids.

His wife, Tipper, snapped photographs of three of their children as they emerged from the voting booths: Kristin, Sarah and Albert III. Their oldest daughter, Karenna Gore Schiff, voted near her home in New York City.

As the vice president voted, only his cowboy boots could be seen by the news cameras.

Gore asked the students, "What kind of person do you want to pick for president?"

"My friend," a boy responded.

"Well," Gore replied, "that's probably why most of the candidates run advertisements that try to make you think that they're like your friend."

*

Times staff writer Matea Gold contributed to this story.

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