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15 years later, CNN’s ‘Bush vs. Gore’ recalls the longest election night ever

Vice President Al Gore, center, his running mate Joe Lieberman to his right and Gore's wife, Tipper, lower left, greet supporters following Gore's concession speech on Dec. 13, 2000.

Vice President Al Gore, center, his running mate Joe Lieberman to his right and Gore’s wife, Tipper, lower left, greet supporters following Gore’s concession speech on Dec. 13, 2000.

(LUKE FRAZZA / AFP)

Fifteen years ago, America watched the wildest election night in history and the start of a 36-day legal battle for the White House.

TV network news divisions had awarded Florida’s electoral votes to Al Gore, putting the Democratic nominee a path to victory against his Republican opponent George W. Bush. By the end of the night, they reversed the call and gave the state and the election to Bush, only to have it become too close to call when more votes came in. For the next month, recounts, butterfly ballots and hanging chads became the hot topics on network and cable news.

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CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger recounts the conflict that gripped the nation’s attention in an hourlong documentary “Bush vs. Gore: The Endless Election” premiering Monday at 6 p.m. PST on CNN. She talks to many of the attorneys and political operatives involved in the conflict that was ultimately decided on Dec. 13 after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a ruling by the Florida State Supreme Court that called for a statewide recount.

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After sitting down with James Baker, Ben Ginsberg, Karen Hughes and Ted Olsen from the Republican side and Ron Klain, David Boies and Bill Daley who fought for the Democrats, Borger said there was one characteristic they all had in common.

“They all acted like it happened yesterday because it was such an important moment in their lives,” she said. “Nobody has forgotten a minute of it.”

Even though Gore vs. Bush was the first presidential election of the 21st century, the media and technology of the time make it play like a period piece.

There was no Twitter, Facebook or social media at the time. The network anchors of the time – Borger talks to three of them, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and CNN’s Bernie Shaw – were considered the final authority on when the race was over. Once the networks erroneously called the election for Bush, it was difficult to reverse course when the Florida vote count showed how close the race was in the state.

“The communication was so different 15 years” ago. she said. “The people in Gore’s boiler room had no idea that Gore had conceded to Bush and was on his way to the War Memorial to give his concession speech. They were all trying to page each other but the Gore people were all so depressed half of them had turned their pagers off. Today there would be no way not to communicate.”

Follow me on Twitter @SteveBattaglio


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