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George W. Bush had been no more nor less ignored than Al Gore throughout a long campaign that never really engaged the public. Surviving the debates, he led in the polls for 20 of the last 26 weeks leading to Election Day, then headed back to Texas to hunker down and, surrounded by his famous family, watch the returns. Now, finally, attention would be paid. It was clear very early that the race was close, but when Florida was called for Gore shortly before 8 p.m., despondency fell over the Bush clan. With tears in his eyes, brother Jeb, Florida's Governor, apologized to George W. for letting him down. Other battleground states--Michigan, Pennsylvania--were put into the Gore column as well, and the outlook went from gray to black. But there was something curious here: Bush's people were getting numbers from Florida that showed their candidate slightly ahead, not behind, and finally Bush went on network television from the Governor's mansion to question the Florida call. "It's going to be a long night," he said. The Governor was more right than he knew. The networks sheepishly pulled Florida back from Gore just before 10 o'clock, and Austin came alive. The Governor was, in the words of one associate, "like a prizefighter pulling himself off the mat." Back in the bout, he and his family returned to watching the Western states closely, all the while keeping an eye on Florida. When another late-reporting state fell into line, George W. punched the air with what vigor he had left, while his revived brother smiled--and stayed on the line to his operatives back East (right). By 1 a.m. Bush's lead in Florida was 200,000 votes, and although Dade and Broward counties were yet to report, the mood in the mansion was optimistic. Shortly thereafter it was jubilant as, at 2:15 a.m., Florida was called for Bush and the Governor became, in the eyes of the networks and the nation, the President-elect. He hugged his dad, kissed his mom and embraced his drained and relieved brother. Then he took the congratulatory phone call from Vice President Gore.
A Night to Remember, Part II