Surely the vice president did not realize that he was predicting the future when, on his last visit to Nashville prior to election night, he joked that should George W. Bush win the presidency Americans would awaken to a bleak, rainy day.
The early hours of November 8th , in both Nashville and Austin, were just that.
For the first time since the campaigns start, both Democrats and Republicans found themselves in the same boat - tired, cold, wet, huddling together and anxiously clinging to Bernard Shaws every word on CNN, cheering and groaning, hoping against hope that the night would just end.
Perhaps it was a sign that at around midnight the election, which had seemed to favor the vice president earlier in the evening, began to take a turn for the worst. Rain polluted the skies that had been so clear and brought with it a cold front that starkly contrasted with the early evenings perfect, warm, weather. If supporters had looked with keen and critical eyes, perhaps they would have seen that Gores prophecy was beginning to come true - or at the very least, that the vice presidents luck was washing away.
Shortly after 1:00 a.m. central time the announcement came that Bush had won Florida and thus the election. Dejected and despondent, the crowd began to clear. People by the hundreds filtered to the parking lots and hotels surrounding Nashvilles Legislative Plaza. But the die-hard democrats remained, cuddling under umbrellas and tucking their cold arms inside short sleeved shirts, waiting to hear Gores concession speech and refusing to acknowledge aloud that America would have its second George Bush in the Oval Office.
These same democrats that hours earlier had crowded not only on Legislative Plaza but in the neighboring bars and at private parties, all cheering the announcement of each democrat-won electoral vote with a vigor typically reserved for the Super Bowl, now trudged through downtown Nashville, dreading the moment that reality would set in.
Perhaps the signs had been there all along. Perhaps the democratic faithful had been warned by some of the other things that went wrong. Regardless, as the evening progressed, Gores luck began to dwindle and bit by bit everyones spirits began to fall, eventually drowning and dropping into the bog of let downs and false hopes, the political and emotional roller coaster, that characterized Election Night 2000.
Collectively, the signs were there. Too many things were going wrong. From the obvious disappointments to the random annoyances, tides were turning against the Gore camp. All present knew things were bad when Florida was first being chalked up as a Gore win only to later be snatched back. But there were other, seemingly insignificant problems, too. The brand new walkie-talkie system purchased by the Metro Nashville Police Department with this event in mind malfunctioned and all of the extra officers brought in from across the city had to work in silence.
Many supporters left the plaza because the public address system was not loud enough nor the giant television screens visible enough for all present to stay abreast of the returns. The 2,000 members of the media on hand, arrived from all over the globe, grew angry when they learned that press would be quarantined to a pen off to the far right of the stage with an obscured view of the evenings festivities and absolutely prohibited from entering the main public area. (This created an interesting dilemma: assigned to gather the "human element" of the event but restricted from access to the citizens present, many reporters took to interviewing each other in the lobby bar of the Sheraton Hotel across the street from the plaza.
The opinions of journalists from Tennessee organizations were held in especially high regard by members of the European and Japanese press.)
However, at 2:30 a.m. the remaining Democrats caught a glimmer of the silver lining on the storm cloud that had parked itself over the War Memorial Building. As everyone awaited Gores concession speech, news of his first call to the Texas governor had already been heralded, reports came in that the fat lady had not yet sung. Florida had been taken from Bush and placed once again in the "too close to call" column - all was not lost. People began to reappear, members of the press left their barstools and once again reclaimed space in the media risers, the hearing impaired interpreter waited on-stage, not knowing whose speech she would interpret.
The crowd erupted in chants of "recount," thrusting posters in the air and hugging each other in expressions of jubilation and hope. The evening takes on a minute-by-minute tone. At 2:45 a.m. it is reported that Gore has made a second call to Governor Bush, this time taking back his concession. Anyone officially associated with the Democratic party, either on a national or state level, is mobbed by reporters, all shoving microphones and tape recorders in the officials faces looking for comments.
At 3:00 a.m. Florida is said to be undecided and the announcement is made that regardless of the outcome there will be a vote recount in that state because the votes are so close. Everyone hangs on everyone elses every word, afraid to move for fear of missing something. All present are soaked to the bone, shivering and physically miserably but too wound up to seek shelter from the rain and cold.
At 3:10 a.m. it is announced that one hundred percent of the Florida precincts have been reported and that Bush now leads by only 1,210 votes - an audible gasp sweeps the crowd, followed by a gaggle of murmurs, everyone is astonished. Bob Butterworth, the attorney general of Florida, makes the announcement that Florida is officially undecided. There are 5,000 votes left in, reportedly from Dade and Broward counties, it looks as if these 5,000 votes will decide our next president.
Bill Daley, the mayor of Chicago and Gores campaign manager takes the stage, saying with eerie resonance, "Our campaign continues." People in Nashville, seeing that Gore will not take the stage to deliver a speech on that night, leave the plaza, some going home, some crowding around television sets in hotel lobbies. Everyone is exhausted but afraid to go to sleep.
At 3:30 a.m. there is another announcement from Butterworth, this time saying, "We do not even know how close the vote is.
At 3:40 a.m.CNN posts its most up to date poll. In Florida Bush holds 2,902,733 votes; Gore holds 2,902,509 votes. It is reported that only 220 votes separate the two. The word "momentous," "legendary," "historical," and "unbelievable" are bandied about like ping pong balls.
In its tally of the total popular vote, CNN reports that Gore leads, taking 47,123,818 votes to Bushs 47,063,088 votes. One can since that in bedrooms and living rooms across Nashville and elsewhere, democrats are cheering.
At 4:10 a.m. all the networks report that nothing will change until mid-morning. People began tucking themselves in, the blue glare of a television tuned to CNN fills bedrooms across the nation as we all sleep no knowing who our next president will.
Daylight on November 8th illuminates a gray, rainy, day in Nashville as Bush is still favored the winner. Gore may not have thought himself a fortuneteller, but his position as Seer in Chief seems secure.