What A Long, Strange Trip: The Inside Story: For More Than a Year, a Team on Newsweek Reporters Has Been Following the Candidates and Their Advisers, Gathering Confidential Information for This Now-It-Can-Be-Told Account of the Race between Al Gore and George W. Bush from Day One to the White-Knuckle Endgame

Newsweek, November 20, 2000 | Go to article overview

What A Long, Strange Trip: The Inside Story: For More Than a Year, a Team on Newsweek Reporters Has Been Following the Candidates and Their Advisers, Gathering Confidential Information for This Now-It-Can-Be-Told Account of the Race between Al Gore and George W. Bush from Day One to the White-Knuckle Endgame


OVERTIME This was a campaign in which Election Day didn't mark the end of the race for George W. Bush and Al Gore, but rather the beginning of another lap-- which turned out to be the most extraordinary, exciting and grueling of all Battle After the Bell Bush family dinners are usually jovial, filled with teasing and inside jokes. But as about 60 members of George W's extended clan, plus a few close friends, sat down to dinner at the Shoreline Grill in Austin, Texas, on election night, the mood was edgy and uncomfortable. Nationwide, the exit polls that afternoon had not been quite as promising as the Bush campaign had expected. Nonetheless, brother Jeb, the governor of Florida, seemed to be upbeat. Jeb was under tremendous pressure to deliver his home state and its 25 electoral votes. W had joked that if Jeb didn't come through, it would be a "chilly Thanksgiving" around the Bush dinner table. So Jeb was relieved to report to his brother that the early returns from Florida seemed reasonably encouraging.

As dinner began, George W kept getting up to stare at the TV set in the corner. Suddenly, at 6:50 p.m. Central standard time, MSNBC projected that the state of Florida would go to Al Gore. Standing with his son, former president Bush looked stricken, family members later told NEWSWEEK. Jeb walked over and hugged W. "I'm really sorry, brother," he said. He began to tear up. The candidate's twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara, broke down. They buried their heads in his chest. Their father bowed his head and held them close. "It's a long night," said President Bush.

He had no idea. Not just a long night, but a long week, after a very long campaign that still has no certain end in sight. "Are you ready for war?" George W. Bush challenged his campaign staff back in the fall of 1999, when the ordeal was just beginning. Bush would be the first to tell you that he was just using a political cliche. Politicians and their operatives often sound like a cross between Vince Lombardi and Gen. George S. Patton. But the race between George Bush and Al Gore at times did have the feel of a death struggle. "I'm not like George Bush," Al Gore told an aide in 1999, when the campaign was just gearing up. "If he wins or loses, life goes on. I'll do anything to win." Bush may not have been quite as driven. "If this doesn't work out, I've got a life," he told a NEWSWEEK reporter in December 1999, when his campaign seemed to be dragging. But Bush, too, had plenty to prove. He rejected the suggestion that he was trying to live up to his war-hero father by restoring the Bush family name to the White House. "The personal war to vindicate my old man?" he scoffed on the eve of the election. "Too complex." But Bush could not disguise his desire to show up the "intellectual elitism" of pundits who questioned his intelligence. "You know, they tried to pin a label on me that I wasn't prepared for the job... I just kind of found it amusing," he said, sounding unamused.

The inside story of Campaign 2000 has few grace notes. It was gritty and grinding and rarely uplifting. But it was always extraordinarily close, seesawing in unpredictable ways, though never quite as spectacularly as on election night. It is not likely to be remembered for overarching ideas or soaring rhetoric, but it will be recalled for its unsurpassed drama. How so much money and planning produced such a tangled result is a testament less to the American political system than to the willfulness and foibles of human nature--certainly, to the human qualities of the two men who are still desperately vying for the White House.

For someone who had to spend much of two years on the road, crisscrossing America, George Bush was a homebody. On election night, the candidate and his wife, Laura, had been scheduled to go up to a suite at the Four Seasons Hotel to watch the returns before going down for a victory celebration. But at dinner, after the shocking news about Florida, Bush wanted to go home. …

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What A Long, Strange Trip: The Inside Story: For More Than a Year, a Team on Newsweek Reporters Has Been Following the Candidates and Their Advisers, Gathering Confidential Information for This Now-It-Can-Be-Told Account of the Race between Al Gore and George W. Bush from Day One to the White-Knuckle Endgame
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