Cover Story

14 hours of ups and downs

For Gore supporters on election night, fear turned to hope, to excitement, to disappointment and dismay, then to hope all over again-and now to the legal system

Issue: "President Bush?," Nov. 18, 2000

in Nashville-Crisp November afternoon winds whip scarlet and gold leaves around Tennessee's capital city. It's 1 p.m. on Tuesday. Sunshine brightens 601 Mainstream Drive, Al Gore's red-brick headquarters building marked by a royal-blue Gore/Lieberman sign and set off a simple, two-lane road. The calm exterior belies the frenzy inside. A line of 15, mainly volunteers hoping to scoop up more campaign signs and stickers, spills outside the glass doors. Security guards dressed in khaki uniforms keep an eye on the crowd. Black-suited bodyguards accompany the would-be First Lady's mother and father; Tipper's mom approaches one of the volunteers: "Hi, we're Tipper Gore's parents. What's your name? Thank you so much for helping." Half a dozen women shovel out campaign paraphernalia and field phone calls. "No, we do not know if Gore has Tennessee!" one of the workers barks into the phone between bites of a roast-beef sandwich. White 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of paper with black lettering are scotch-taped over the complex proclaiming, "We're going to win!" A 100-picture collage depicts happy volunteers. Campaign staffers have placed a coffee can wrapped with Gore stickers to accept last-minute donations from the steady stream. Behind white walls, covered with everything from Nurses to Unions for Gore insignia, lies the operation's nerve center. Staffers buzz around the "snake pit" of cluttered desks. Across the building, mussed folding cots lie rumpled from late-night dives. Some 40 volunteers wedge identical black phones on their shoulders, in a last-ditch effort to get out the vote. One female Gore partisan urges a colleague to cheer up: "Keep your faith, bro, we're going to win." Four miles away downtown is where the logistical people work. Staffers dressed in black T-shirts and jeans fine-tune the outdoor patriotic set-up and speakers for the big Gore/Lieberman Election Night Celebration at 8 p.m. Cars slowly circle the sunny War Memorial Plaza sitting at the dead end of Deadrick Street. Ten magnolias frame the marble steps leading to the makeshift stage. A jeans-clad man slowly unrolls blue carpet down the middle of the stairs, complementing a shining black-and-silver drum set. A large American flag gleams through 10 towering, dusky pillars. Ten thousand feet of cable is laid, and 1,200 media members test lights and computers. The highway is temporarily closed for Al Gore's big arrival, but that would have to wait-and wait and wait, as it turned out. George W. Bush jumps to a modest, early lead. Gore fans watch CNN on giant screens as the TV personalities announce 20 electoral votes for the Texas governor from Kentucky and Indiana. Select, ticketed Democrats file through metal detectors to the gated plaza, illuminated by Tennessee's state capitol. A peddler sells buttons like "I didn't vote for his daddy either"-three for five bucks. Just before 7 p.m., Bush is up 54 to 3. Three women sporting Gore T-shirts huddle around a wooden table in a Sheraton bar, across the street from the bright lights, intently observing live coverage. One holds her head in her hands. A sudden whoop emerges from a small crowd that has gathered on the street when CNN personalities project a Gore/Lieberman upset in Florida. The buzz builds to a roar as the Democratic ticket captures Michigan, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland. Volunteers jump out of chairs in their bright orange T-shirts, grabbing each other in a hug, and slapping high fives. Clearly, the tide is turning. "Oh, my gosh!" wails Lori Beth Jinkins. The blonde 26-year-old Tennesseean presses her fists against her face. "It's going to be a bad Thanksgiving for the Bushes. That's an elephant off my back." Her friend Melissa Corban, 24, thinks "the momentum is definitely going Gore's way. It's going to come together." It's still early, but the crowd is certainly coming together, as more bodies jam into the blocked streets bordering metal fence barriers. Three women toting Gore signs chant, "Boo Texas! Boo Texas! Go Gore! Go Gore!" During his 7:35 p.m. briefing, campaign spokesman Doug Hattaway tosses little nuggets of detail to news-hungry reporters: The boss is enjoying dinner with the Liebermans, Mr. Hattaway relates, and then offers this prediction: "For the first time in three decades, the people living on the west coast will decide who will be the president of the United States." Wrong coast, as it would turn out. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania falls to Gore/Lieberman and the mood in Nashville brightens as the Democratic ticket builds its lead. A woman in a leopard dress sits under a Chinese Tallow tree, slapping her thighs to the music. Her husband nudges her, chuckling over Marilu Henner's vocal rendition, "Anything Bush can do, Gore can do better." The crowd gives a whoop for Cher, dressed in a black cowboy hat and a red jacket. "I think we're going to pull it out by the hair of our chinny, chin chin!" she shouts and waves. Spokesman Hattaway shovels out more details: Mr. Gore's been going for 38 hours, and "we're still feeling positive." One hundred thousand volunteers are strategically arrayed to "pull" votes as races close by offering voters chauffeur service to the polls. At 10:45 p.m. Sessions Bar and Lounge, a stone's throw from the blaring lights and music, begins to bounce. Crowds speak louder; drinks multiply. Half of the partiers keep an eye on the news, the rest ignore the race they believe is in the bag. Glasses rattle, men relax on striped chairs, and reporters munch candy bars. Pizza boxes litter mahogany tables. "Oh, we've got it won," concludes Fran Johnson, 51, holding a bag with a sparkly red, white, and blue pompom spilling out. "Go Democrats!" In the lobby of the Sheraton, a family of five lies sprawled over blue couches. Bruce Ailion, 43, flew his three children up for the live process from conservative Atlanta, he claims, because he "couldn't find any stickers." His stocking feet are crossed comfortably on a shining coffee table, shoes tossed carelessly by his side. Daughter Allisa, 10, slapped six Gore bumper stickers on her arms and face. Her favorite part was media attention: "But I walked too much." Son Brandon, 5, calls it "the best day of my life" as he rests under a jacket on a couch. But it's way too early for sleep. Florida's 25 electoral votes are back in the "undecided" column. By midnight, the race is neck and neck, the closest in 30 years. Reporters shake their heads; all hinges on Florida's 25 votes. Both candidates need those votes to win; there is no other way. Drizzling rain falls Wednesday morning at 1 a.m. Gore signs that once flashed in the sunlight now double as makeshift bonnets. The Winans celebrate the new morning of uncertainty to an improvised tune, "Tennessee, we're going to stand." Four college students lock arms and sway. Hands are raised as at a Pentecostal worship service. The gospel-music stars finish singing and leave the stage. No more live entertainment. Just CNN updates on a large screen. Around 1:30 a.m., Nashville time, Gov. Bush's face flashes on the CNN screen with the announcement: "Bush wins." Silence. A woman walks briskly, wiping tears away under a knit hood, shaking her head at reporters' questions. "Well, it was kinda nice being a part of history," smiles Alex Bell, 55, of Nashville. Outside, the soaking citizens hold a different view. A man wearing a Gore T-shirt strides under an umbrella. His feeling? "Well, my wife locked our keys in the car, and I can't find AAA's number, but besides that we're doing well," laughs the Maryland father. What about the Gore loss? After a long pause and swallow, he answers, "I didn't know. It's a shock. A shock." Faithful Gore followers stay huddled under colorful umbrellas in front of the empty stage, staring. Empty soda cans rattle under raindrops. Reporters hide under risers. Couples bury their heads in hugs. A girl's mascara slides down her cheeks while she rakes her sopping hair with shaking fingers. "Chris," she whispers into her green cell phone, taking a deep breath. "He lost." An irate, dark-headed girl in red spits, "This is my imitation of Bush," sticking out her tongue. A well-dressed businessman calls on a cell phone to check the results. He listens lightly, and then demands in a harsh tone, "He's going to lose? Are you serious?" And then accusingly, "How do you know?" A tall man in a gray suit walks up to a complete stranger, "They won the-House, they won the-Senate, and they won the - presidential race." But wait. There's a discrepancy. Less than a thousand votes-instead of 10,000-separate the Gore ticket from the Bush ticket in Florida. Reporters yell and mob the TV screens. Cell phones ring incessantly. Mr. Gore has retracted his concession. At 3 a.m. on Nov. 8, a weary, wary enthusiasm is back. Then the long wait begins.

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