AUSTIN, Texas -- One of the closest presidential elections in American history appeared to end in a victory for George W. Bush early this morning, but though he was initially declared the victor, the race was too close to call at 4 a.m. this morning. The race hinges on the state of Florida, where only about 1,200 votes separate Bush from Democrat Al Gore, who retracted an initial concession. Whoever takes the state's 25 electoral votes will win the presidency. "Without being certain of the results in Florida, we simply cannot be certain of the results of the election," Gore campaign chairman William Daley told a cheering crowd in Nashville. If the difference between votes for Bush and Gore is within .5 percent, Florida must by law perform a recount. Overseas absentee ballots, which can come in for 10 more days and in 1996 numbered 2,200, may also sway the victory. Overall, Bush led Gore by roughly 27,000 votes out of about 100 million cast -- a difference of approximately .002 percent -- making it perhaps the closest election in American history. Just an hour after various media outlets declared Bush the victor at about 2 a.m., the Republican's supporters were stunned as news stations broadcast updated Florida tallies showing that the state was leaning back toward Gore; the Associated Press reported that the uncounted precincts were likely Democratic. The two presidential hopefuls had battled vote-for-vote almost all night -- in fact, Florida had initially been called for Gore soon after its polls closed at 8 p.m. If Bush sustains the Sunshine State victory, he will have a total of 271 electoral votes, putting him just one above the 270 vote benchmark needed to take the presidency. Early in the night, Gore's apparent victory in Florida, coupled with significant wins in battleground states like Pennsylvania and Michigan, seemed to throw the losing side of the election to Bush, who was thought to need those states to ensure a victory. But soon after Bush and his campaign staffers vocally announced their displeasure at the early Florida declaration, CNN and others took the highly unusual step of withdrawing the projection. "I know you have all these projections you're all looking at, but people are still out there actually counting votes," Bush said to a small group of reporters in the Governor's Mansion. "I just think the whole issue of calling states on the basis of exit polling is something that needs to be looked at," chief Bush strategist Karl Rove added. While a crowd of several thousand supporters braved a cold rain that sent many home early, Bush waited out the results with family in the downtown Governor's Mansion. Gore, meanwhile, was with supporters and family at his campaign headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., awaiting word on which man will next take residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. When Bush's apparent victory results were announced, the crowd here in Austin erupted in a cheer that could be heard blocks away. Bush supporters filed into the two-block plaza cordoned off for the celebration and awaited what would soon be the acceptance speech of the president-elect. "I'm so excited!"Austin resident Devota Swenson said. "I never thought the election would be this close. I think this is going to be a great move for this country." But after Daley's announcement, Bush supporters were faced with the news that the victory they had waited so long for was not certain. While pundits and officials continued to make their final counts and speculate over how the election would turn out, the crowd at Bush's camp maintained a cautious optimism as they awaited what they hoped would be a final acceptance speech on behalf of their candidate. Republicans did manage to keep control of both houses of Congress, though they lost at least four seats in the Senate, with one still undecided, leaving open the possibility of a 50-50 split. The exact make-up of the next House of Representatives remained unclear as of early this morning, but Republicans are on their way to controlling both houses for their fourth consecutive Congress. In the most notable Senate contests, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton defeated Long Island Republican Congressman Rick Lazio to win the New York Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Daniel Patrick Moynihan. The Garden State will also be sending a new Democratic senator to Washington, as Jon Corzine triumphed over Rep. Bob Franks to win an election marred by criticisms of Corzine's record personal campaign spending. In Pennsylvania, Sen. Rick Santorum held on to his seat, as he defused a threat by former Rep. Ron Klink.
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