Revisiting the Most Controversial Election in American History

By Ryan S. ’22

The 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore was anything but routine, with the country not knowing who would become the president until five weeks after election day. The election was one of the most important in American history, following the drama of Bill Clinton’s impeachment  the prior year. Bill Clinton had been a vastly popular president, notably erasing the national debt, as heading into the 21st century, the United States was stronger economically than ever before.

In the Democratic primaries, Al Gore, the vice president in the Clinton administration, was the clear frontrunner, as Bill Clinton had very high approval ratings throughout his presidency. However, due to Clinton’s sex scandal with Monica Lewinsky and subsequent impeachment, Gore chose to not campaign with Clinton. Many would claim that this decision hurt Gore’s campaign down the road. New Jersey Senator and former NBA player Bill Bradley would be Gore’s greatest adversary. Nevertheless, Gore won over the democratic establishment and successfully portrayed Bradley as idealistic and indifferent towards the needs of the average American. Gore would go on to win every single delegate in the Democratic primaries, excluding nine abstentions, and selected Joe Lieberman, a long time Connecticut senator, as his running mate. Meanwhile, there were more than ten candidates in the Republican field and the favorite was George W. Bush. A charismatic governor from Texas, Bush was very popular as he was the son of former president George H.W. Bush. Entering March, Bush’s only significant threat was John McCain, a senator from Arizona and retired war hero. However, after an abysmal Super Tuesday, McCain would drop out of the election, and Bush accepted his nomination at the Republican National Convention. Bush would select Dick Cheney, a former Secretary of Defense under his George H.W. Bush’s administration, to be the vice presidential nominee. 

The campaigns for Bush and Gore mainly focused on domestic issues, such as a plan for healthcare, which Clinton was not able to achieve. The candidates also clashed on foreign policy, with Bush denouncing Clinton’s policies of keeping troops in the Balkans, claiming “I don’t think our troops ought to be used for what’s called nation-building.” Gore ripped Bush apart because of his inexperience, but there were generally no clear winners in the three presidential debates. 

During the presidential election, Bush carried nearly every southern state, including Gore’s home state of Tennessee. Bush also won the crucial swing states of Ohio, Indiana, and Missouri. Gore would go on to win the popular vote and most of the northeastern and upper midwest states to take a slight lead on Bush. As November 7th (election day) went on, it was evident that Florida would decide the election. Earlier in the night, many major news networks had called Florida for Gore, but later put Florida in the undecided category, as Bush looked to be barely leading the vote. By November 8th, Bush’s lead in Florida was around 300 votes, which would trigger an automatic recount, according to the Florida state legislature. Later in November, Bush’s lead increased to 537 votes, as Democrats strongly campaigned for recounts in four different counties that could have led to a different result. Much to the dismay of Gore supporters, the US Supreme Court voted 7-2, ruling that the Florida Supreme Court decision to recount ballots was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court then voted 5-4 that no recount could be finished in a “timely manner.” Therefore, George Bush had effectively won the 2000 election, finishing with 271 electoral votes, to Gore’s 266, in the most chaotic election of all time. Many Americans will agree that this election was not only the closest of their lifetime, but likewise the most controversial, coming to a Supreme Court Decision after five weeks of unrest.

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