Thursday, November 9,
  Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

US presidential battle hangs in balance

WASHINGTON, Nov 8 (PTI) — After a heart-stopping reversal, the US presidential race hung in balance tonight with only a few hundred votes to decide whether Democratic Al Gore or Republican George W. Bush will become the next American President in cliff-hanger elections.

On a day of sensational twists and turns, Mr Bush had been declared a winner by American television networks which had the mortification of retracting the announcement later when it was found that only a few thousand votes separated the two hopefuls in the deciding state of Florida that has 25 electoral votes.

Following this dramatic turnaround of fortunes, the world was now awaiting the recount of votes in Florida, where Mr Bush was leading by less than 2000 votes. Some mailed-in absentee ballots were being counted and the result is expected only tomorrow.

Texas Governor George W. Bush stands next to his father, former President George Bush (left), in the living room at the Governor's Mansion in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday.— Reuters Photo
Texas Governor George W. Bush stands next to his father, former President George Bush (left), in the living room at the Governor's Mansion in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday.— Reuters Photo

Vice-President Gore had 260 votes to Mr Bush’s 249 in the 539 vote electoral college in which votes are awarded state-by-state on a winner-take-all basis. A candidate needs 270 votes to make it to the White House.

In the popular vote which does not matter at this stage, Mr Gore had 4.81 crore electors supporting him against 4.79 crore for Texas Governor Bush.

Like the outcome of the Florida vote, first awarded to Mr Gore by the media and then to Mr Bush, the vote also seesawed between the two candidates.

Florida is the fourth-leading US State in Electoral College votes, behind California (54), New York (33) and Texas (32).

Before Tuesday’s election, Florida, with a large number of retirees among its 8.7 million inhabitants, was thought to be Gore territory, despite the fact that Mr Bush’s brother Jeb is its Governor.

Mr Gore’s platform, focused heavily on health care for the elderly and social security appeared to guarantee the continuance of the federal government retirement program so treasured by the elderly.

Mr Gore was also favoured among Florida’s black and Jewish minorities (12 and five per cent of the population, respectively), who traditionally back Democrats.

Not so certain was the outcome among the state’s Hispanic minority (12 per cent), especially among the numerous Cuban-American community.

Political observers predicted the politically active Cuban-Americans would use their votes to punish the administration of President Bill Clinton, and Mr Gore along with it, for its handling of the Elian Gonzalez saga earlier this year.

Gonzalez was a six-year-old shipwreck survivor who was caught in the middle of a custody battle between his father in Cuba and his uncle in Miami. The US Government supported a judge’s decision to return Elian to Cuba earlier this year.

In the 1996 US presidential election, only one-third of Florida’s Cuban-American community voted for Mr Clinton, according to the Hispanic Trends polling group.

Initial exit polls taken yesterday gave South Florida, which includes Miami, to the Democrats, but the Cuban-Americans appear to have watered down that result.

The state’s less urbanised northern and central regions were expected to be largely in favour of the Republicans, according to a recent study by the Miami Herald daily.

Among the state’s middle class, where taxes and crime are major concerns, Mr Bush was expected to come out slightly ahead.

A year ago, Mr Bush had polled well ahead of Mr Gore in Florida but the state’s complex social structure restrained the Republicans’ confidence.

Florida voted for Mr Clinton in 1996, but in the four previous presidential races, it had been a Republican bastion.

Meanwhile, Florida’s critical recount of votes may not be completed until the end of business tomorrow, the state’s elections supervisor said today.

“We expect it to be done by tomorrow afternoon,” Mr Clay Roberts, Director of the Florida Division of Elections, said in the state capital, Tallahassee.

Mr Roberts said the only Florida ballots that were not counted in the election night tally of nearly 6 million votes were those cast by Florida registered voters living overseas who were required to have their ballots postmarked by yesterday.

Those ballots might take up to 10 days to arrive and to be added to the vote count, officials have said. Mr Bush led by fewer than 1,800 votes in the election night count.

Mr Roberts said it was not known how many overseas ballots were cast but in 1996, about 2,300 were received. 

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