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U.S.: Presidential Vote Still Too Close To Call

In one of the closest presidential votes in U.S. history, neither Republican George W. Bush nor Democrat Al Gore has yet emerged as a certain winner. As the outcome narrowed to the vote in the southern state of Florida, Bush seemed to hold a slight lead. A vote recount in that state has now been announced. Senior correspondent Robert McMahon assesses the results.

Washington, 8 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The outcome of yesterday's U.S. presidential race remains uncertain, depending solely on the results of a exceedingly tight race in the southern state of Florida.

Earlier, computer projections claimed Republican George W. Bush won the race, defeating his Democratic rival Vice President Al Gore.

But as vote counting in the populous state of Florida continued, the race tightened to an almost dead heat. With 100 percent of Florida's precincts now counted, Bush holds a slim margin of about 2,000 votes out of almost 6 million votes cast.

The closeness of the vote has triggered an automatic recount. Florida officials now say a final result could be known as soon as 1700 local time today. Other sources say it may take several days before a final result is declared.

The winner of Florida's vote would receive all of that state's 25 electoral votes, giving him more than the 270 electoral votes needed to win.

Gore earlier conceded the race in a telephone call to the Bush campaign but retracted that concession once the Florida vote began to narrow.

Bush's campaign was cautious in projecting victory. Bush campaign chairman Don Evans said today:

"Governor Bush and Secretary Cheney asked me to thank you for all your terrific support and hard work. We hope and believe we have elected the next president of the United States."

Nationwide, with almost 100 percent of the popular vote counted, Gore continues to hold a slim lead over Bush.

If Gore's lead in the popular vote holds up and Bush wins Florida, the winner of the electoral college vote, and thus the new president-elect, would have attracted a lower national popular vote than his opponent. The winner of the popular vote has lost the U.S. election only three times, in 1824, 1876, and 1888.

The closeness also increases the importance of control of Congress. Projections show the Republican party appears to have retained control over both chambers, the Senate and the House of Representatives, although by a smaller number of seats.

Bush is seeking the office lost by his father -- George Bush Sr. -- to Bill Clinton eight years ago. The younger Bush, who has served as governor of the state of Texas the past six years, has described himself as a "compassionate conservative" and was able to generate support among Hispanic voters who traditionally have backed Democratic candidates.

Bush captured most of the Western and Central states and scored well in the South, including a win in Gore's home state of Tennessee and President Bill Clinton's home state of Arkansas. Gore won California, most of the northeastern states and several large industrialized states in the Midwest.

Many voters supported the Republican party for their presidential choice in spite a strong performance of the economy under Democrat Bill Clinton. Americans in general are enjoying a period of prosperity, with low unemployment, low inflation, and a federal budget surplus.

But studies repeatedly showed discontent among Americans linked to Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky and his impeachment by the U.S. House of Representatives. Bush promised to change the tone in Washington and to heal the divisions between Republicans and Democrats.

Clinton's legacy was also of concern to his vice president. Gore did not seek the support of Clinton on the campaign trail, telling Americans he was his "own man."

Foreign policy issues did not play a significant role in the campaign. Both candidates have similar free trade positions and have backed Clinton's recent efforts to broker peace in the Middle East.

But a majority of voters did see clear differences between the candidates on domestic policy. Gore promised to extend the country's prosperity, while expanding the federal government's role through programs like prescription drug benefits. He also promised to preserve the Social Security program, the publicly funded pension plan, for senior citizens.

Bush pledged to make major tax cuts, improve schools and redesign the social security system by allowing taxpayers to invest some of this money in private funds.

Gore's campaign portrayed Bush as too inexperienced for the presidency while Bush repeatedly questioned Gore's credibility.

The main third-party candidate, Ralph Nader of the left-leaning Green Party, won about 2 percent of the vote nationwide. His vote count in Florida, about 100,000, was much higher than either Bush's or Gore's margin of victory there will be.

Nader ran as an alternative to the two main parties, saying both the Democratic and Republican parties are too closely influenced by special interest groups to be able to make unbiased decisions on areas such as health-care and environmental protection.

Nader repeated that charge today:

"Having abandoned its historical roots and its often deserved image as the party of working families, the Democratic Party has sold out the rights and interests of the people who entrusted their future to it for a relentless round of gigantic fundraising dinners here in Washington and around the country."

Nader and the Green Party failed to win 5 percent of the popular vote and will remain ineligible for federal funding.

The most notable Democratic victory in the Senate came in New York, where Hillary Rodham Clinton defeated Republican Congressman Rick Lazio, becoming the first wife of a president to be elected to Congress.

She faced criticism from Lazio and others as a partisan figure but pledged after winning her race that she would work with Republicans to bring progress to New Yorkers. With the president standing nearby, Mrs. Clinton expressed her appreciation to voters:

"Thank you for opening up your mind and your heart, for seeing the possibility of what we can do together for our children and for our future here in this state and in our nation I am profoundly grateful to all of you for giving me the chance to serve you."

A big question now facing either presidential candidate is whether he will have enough support in Congress to advance his initiatives. The closeness of Tuesday's vote reflected the prevailing balance of power in Washington, as neither party has a de facto predominance. The Republicans have controlled the legislative branch for six years, while a Democratic administration has been in the White House for eight years.

(NCA's Don Hill contributed to this report)