Publish Date: Nov. 20, 2000
Cover Story: Reversal of … Fortune
How TIME Covered the News: It was the great election standoff – the uncharted territory of hanging chads, legal challenges and political posturing. For the days and weeks that passed, the presidency hung in the balance:
“Imagine for a moment what it was like to be Al Gore on Wednesday morning. The man who said the presidential election wasn’t a popularity contest had won the popularity contest. He collected more votes than Bill Clinton ever did, more votes than any other Democrat in history. But like his father before him, he couldn’t hold on to his home state, and that could cost him the race. The most fervent environmentalist in national politics was foiled by the Green Party; the guy who as a young Congressman made his name investigating tainted baby formula and influence peddling by the contact-lens industry lost because of a few thousand votes for a mischievous consumer advocate. Gore is the one who campaigned as though every vote counted–and he was right.
Now imagine what it was like to be George W. Bush. He had led for 20 out of the last 26 weeks in the polls, and his advisers had promised he would win it in a walk. Now his life depended on a state he viewed as a family colony. His entire message was built around the promise to heal the divide, restore people’s faith in a system that seemed cruddy and cracked. Then the count comes in and the cracks have deepened, no matter who wins and how. All through his life he had followed his father’s footsteps–to Yale and flight school and the Oil Patch–but once he got there, the prizes had lost some of their honor and shine. The biggest prize of all was now within reach, back in the family, but even if he finally wins, he has to wonder what it’s worth.
The rest of us woke up Wednesday morning not knowing who would be the next leader of the free world, not knowing when we would know, not knowing if the eventual winner would be able to govern with a Senate split down the middle and a teeny Republican edge in the House and a nation so neatly and clearly and evenly divided that it would take a pair of tweezers to find a mandate in the results. Neither side even tried.”