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Tuesday, November 7, 2000

I thought I should get as much work done as possible early in the day, since CNN was starting their wall-to-wall election coverage at 2:00. Just because that was an hour before the first polls closed and any results could be released didn't make a difference to me. I prefer the pundits to the candidates anyway.

And let's not forget the jolly folks at MSNBC, who, while CNN was somberly analyzing how the issues affect voting patterns, were gleefully interviewing each other and anyone else who wandered by about what great fun this all was. (I switched back and forth a lot, so maybe I missed whatever hilarity CNN had to offer. But I doubt Jeff Greenfield bubbled as much as Chris Matthews.)

It didn't work out quite as smoothly as I planned. I was suddenly inundated with work at 3:00, just as the first polls closed. (Indiana and Kentucky, no surprises there.) So I wasn't as able to follow the early returns as closely as I would have liked, but at that time the talking heads were still repeating themselves more than reporting anything new.

We had a glorious three or four hours late in the afternoon, when all the projections had Florida in the Gore column. It seemed then that the dominoes would fall and the vice president would be swept into the White House by a near landslide. Pennsylvania and Michigan followed, and I was feeling hopeful for the first time since the first debate. I didn't even mind when Bush took Ohio.

David called on his cell phone as he was driving home from work, to find out how things were going. This is the first election he's voted in, and he took it seriously. We talked about who was winning what states, and what might happen next, and we were both excited that Gore seemed to have the momentum.

After a while he drove over and we watched the returns together for a few hours, joking about the reporters and politicians baiting each other, and comparing the projections and declarations of the various networks.

When first CNN, and then MSNBC, retreated on Florida, we smelled trouble. I assumed they knew more than they were telling when they insisted that it was suddenly "too close to call." We tried to remain hopeful, but as it got later and later, they led us to believe that the absentee ballots were going to give Bush the edge he needed in Florida, and that would put him over the top.

It was about 11:15 here when word came out that Florida had fallen. By then I'd resigned myself to a Bush presidency, and I was battle scarred from the long evening and the roller coaster ride of anticipation and expectation. The supposed finale seemed almost an anticlimax.

As I write this post mortem, the corpse isn't quite stiff yet. Around 1:00 am, the networks withdrew Florida from the Bush column. They obviously didn't want to do it, but the margin was too small, and they'd been wrong there once already. If anything more bizarre has happened in my years of watching the political process, I can't recall it.

What a wonderful brouhaha we would witness if recounts or late results turn this thing upside down. But then I remember who the governor of Florida is. Jeb Bush's administration will be handling the tallying there.

The victor should be humble, whoever it turns out to be. The process was painful and the margin was thin. More people voted for other candidates than supported any one of them. Bush couldn't carry California or New York, but if you look at the colored maps, there's a sea of Republican red from coast to coast.

Whatever way it goes, the result will be as decisive and credible and incontestable as it needs to be. We do things a certain way in this country. When we win we are magnanimous, and when we lose we lose with dignity. And it's actually kind of magnificent that every state mattered this time around, and every vote turned out to be significant.

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