WASHINGTON, DC -- It all comes down to Florida. Despite winning the popular vote by an estimated 220,000 votes, Democratic candidate Vice President Al Gore may yet lose the presidential election, based on a handful of absentee ballots in Florida and the turnout of Green Party voters.
As of early this morning, Gore and Republican candidate Texas Governor George W. Bush are separated by between 1,500 and 2,000 votes, with Bush in the lead. Whichever candidate wins Florida will win the election, and become the next President of the United States.
Green Party candidate Ralph Nader has won over 96,600 Florida votes, more than enough to have turned the election, if they had been won by either major party candidate.
Claim to the Presidency whipsawed back and forth all night in the closest election race in the nation's history.
As votes were counted across the country, it became apparent that Green Party candidate Ralph Nader has won single digit percentages in many narrowly divided states - enough votes to deny either major party candidate a clear victory.
Who will take Florida's 25 electoral college votes is still in question. Florida's extremely close results have triggered a legal recount which is now underway.
Gore's campaign chairman Bill Daley said early this morning at Gore's headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee, that according to information supplied by the Secretary of State of Florida, "with 99.9 percent of the vote counted, there is a margin of only 1,200 votes out of millions cast - with about 5,000 votes left to be counted."
"This is significant for a very important reason: under Florida State law, this triggers an automatic recount," Daley said. "And without being certain of the results in Florida, we simply cannot be certain of the results of this national election."
Daley said that Gore and Democratic vice presidential candidate Senator Joseph Lieberman "are fully prepared to concede and support Governor George W. Bush if and when he is officially elected President."
In Florida, Nader has taken 96,698 votes, two percent of the electorate. With Bush at 2,909,136 and Gore at 2,907,351 - Nader voters have captured the balance of power.
Most observers believe that if Nader had not run in this election, his supporters would have voted for Gore. Many supporters of Nader and the Green Party feel disillusioned by Gore's environmental policies. Gore promised environmental protections he has not delivered during the Clinton/Gore administration, they feel.
Still, many Nader voters told exit pollsters that they would not have voted at all if Nader had not been in the race.
Some Nader voters in key western states such as Washington, switched their votes with Nader supporters in states where there was a clear winner, such as Texas. Texas voters pledged to vote for Nader, leaving Washington Nader supporters free to vote for Gore.
Across the country Nader took his highest percentage of the vote - ten percent - in Alaska, a result that did not affect the overwhelming Bush win among Alaska voters. In Vermont, Nader won seven percent, but did not prevent Al Gore from taking the state.
In Montana, Maine and Rhode Island, Nader took a strong six percent, but his showing there did not affect the winners - Bush took Montana with 59 percent of the vote. Gore took Maine and Rhode Island.
In Wisconsin, the closest of states, Nader's four percent did not prevent Gore from squeaking through on a majority of less than 6,000 votes.
Nader voters have decided the result in several very close states such as New Hampshire, where Nader's four percent threw the state's four electoral college votes to Bush, who edged Gore out by one percent of the vote.
In Oregon, a race that is still not declared, Nader's four percent has denied Gore a victory. Bush is less than two percent ahead with 77 percent of the votes counted. Oregon controls seven electoral college votes.
So if Nader's votes had gone to Gore, he would have claimed the Presidency by now - taking New Hampshire's four, Oregon's seven and Florida's 25 electoral college votes.
Those 36 electoral votes would have easily given Gore the 270 electoral college votes needed to win the Presidency.
In any case, Nader said last night, the Greens are now a "viable watchdog party," whether or not they win the overall five percent of the popular vote that will qualify the Green Party for federal election funding in 2004.
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