BUSH, GORE BATTLE STATE BY STATE IN CLOSE RACE

November 08, 2000 12:00 am

WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) George W. Bush and Al Gore fought state-by-state in an agonizingly close presidential election Tuesday that gave voters a choice of four more years of Democratic rule or a Republican ''fresh start.'' The candidates endured a long, seesaw night of vote counting.

At midnight, the race was still up for grabs and it all came down to Florida.

The Republicans retained control of the Senate -- if narrowly -- and looked likely to keep a small majority in the House as well.

Gore won big battlegrounds in Pennsylvania, Michigan and California while Bush claimed Texas, Ohio and a string of smaller states, including Gore's Tennessee and Bill Clinton's Arkansas. Five states were still in doubt, from Florida to Oregon with Iowa in the middle.

Florida had been the epicenter of the campaign and Tuesday night was chaotic. At one point news organizations said

Gore was the winner, but they backtracked as more votes were counted and Bush eased ahead.

Green Party candidate Ralph Nader had just 3 percent of the national vote, but did well enough in to potentially tip several states to Bush.

The next president will be submitting his first-year agenda to a deeply divided Congress. The closeness of the day's voting demonstrated deep division in the country and bestowed no clear mandate.

Ever confident, Bush went out for dinner and awaited final returns.

''I don't believe some of these states that they called, like Florida,'' said the Texas governor. Regarding the vice president, Bush said, ''I've run against a formidable opponent.''

Gore, awaiting returns in Nashville, wasn't heard from. The GOP sought to retain its fragile hold on Congress and it was projected that the House would stay in Republican hands and likely the Senate too.

Voters settled a full roster of propositions on the first general election day of the 21st Century. Residents of Colorado and Oregon, shaken by school shooting rampages, cracked down on gun show patrons and sweeping private school voucher proposals were defeated in California and Michigan.

Democrats needed to pick up eight seats in the Senate to wrest control -- an uphill task with a handful of elections too close to call.

In New York, Hillary Rodham Clinton made history, becoming the nation's first first lady to win a Senate seat.

''You taught me, you tested me,'' Mrs. Clinton told her adopted New Yorkers. ''I am determined to make a difference for all of you.''

The presidential race -- among the closest in a generation -- foretold the end to Bill Clinton's turbulent eight years in office.

The math was excruciating for both campaigns -- both candidates were within reach of an electoral majority, and agonizing defeat.

By midnight EST, Bush had won 29 states for 246 electoral votes of the needed 270. Gore had won 16 states plus the District of Columbia for 237. Florida offered a tantalizing 25 votes to its winner.

''It looks like the candidate who wins Florida will be the next president of the United States,'' said Gore spokesman

Mark Fabiani, a practical reality more than a mathematical certainty.

Maine gave three of its four electoral votes to Gore, while the final one was still undecided.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said, ''I'm used to counting the votes in the Senate and the House of Representatives, but I'm not used to counting votes in the electoral college.''

As the anxiety mounted, Bush changed his plans to watch the returns with a large group of family and friends at a hotel. He opted instead for the seclusion of the governor's mansion.

It was no less tense in Democratic quarters.

''It will be late and there will be lots of surprises,'' said Gore campaign chairman, William Daley.

No vote was overlooked. Party sources say Gore aides called for fresh troops for New Hampshire get out the vote operations. The Ted Kennedy campaign sent 250 or so volunteers -- all that for four electoral votes.

Not that it mattered, but with votes tallied from 84 percent of the precincts, Bush had 42,357,342 votes and Gore 41,822,893. Nader was at 2 percent and Pat Buchanan barely registered.

Nader said he didn't mind that his race caused electoral mischief, proclaiming, ''You can't spoil a system spoiled to the core.''

Interviews as voters left their polling places by Voter News Service said that a candidate's position on issues was more influential than his personal qualities, and about one in five voters didn't make up their minds until the last week.

Many of those tipped toward Gore.

In Senate races, former Virginia Gov. George Allen ousted Sen. Charles Robb from the Senate, diminishing Democratic hopes to regain control. Republicans also picked up a Democrat seat in Nevada, while Democrats picked up GOP seats in Florida, Delaware and Minnesota.

In Missouri, Republican Sen. John Ashcroft was defeated by the state's dead governor, Mel Carnahan, who was killed on a campaign flight in October. Gov. Roger Wilson said he would appoint Carnahan's widow, Jean, if her husband topped the ballot.