Glimpses Of Gore

Al Gore
AP
I had pretty much seen it all, or so I thought. Traveling with Vice President Al Gore for much of the past year as a producer for CBS News, I had witnessed more motorcades, airport tarmacs, photo ops, prayer breakfasts, pep rallies, kissed babies and the like than you can imagine. But nothing I had experienced on the campaign trail prepared me for Election Night.

In the final push for the White House, the Gore campaign worked virtually around the clock, feverishly going from state to state, event to event in a never-ending whirl of activity. Despite severe sleep deprivation, the Gore campaign, and indeed, Gore himself, seemed energized and invigorated, as only those nearing the finish line of a close race can be.

Repeatedly chanting the mantra, "This is the closest election in 40 years," the candidate and his staff kept alive memories of John F. Kennedy's razor thin victory in 1960 when he won the race by an average of one vote per precinct, and they vowed to press on until the very end.

We, the traveling press, had heard all this, and knew that the race would be close. But no one could have imagined just how close it would really be.

As a member of the "pool," I was a part of a small group of journalists called to gather for what was thought to be the vice president's final campaign event - his concession speech at Nashville's War Memorial Park. We assembled in the garage of the Gore headquarters hotel where dozens of limos were lined up, waiting for members of the Gore and Lieberman families and staff.

Dozens of people walked to these vehicles looking somber, dejected and stunned. They thought it was over. All of the networks had said so. We thought it was over, too.

We pulled away from the hotel - slowly. I had been in dozens of motorcades like this - usually going below the speed limits. But for some reason, this time it seemed different. It felt like a funeral procession. No one was in a hurry to see the end. Members of the campaign were sad, weary and quiet.

The pouring rain didn't help the mood, either.

Arriving at the site, we hurried to our positions in the front of the podium. Thousands of drenched supporters stood with disappointed faces. They had been there for hours - hoping for a party. Instead, all they would get would be one final look at their candidate. Many had stayed, perhaps wanting to experience a bit history. Little did they know exactly how much history they would soon be exposed to.

The crowds had been watching the results on large screen TVs on either side of the stage. I was standing with several campaign aides who simply hugged one another as they waited for their candidate to appear. They had worked together for more than a year. Many had roomed together. Now it seemed that it was all over. Little was said.

We stood below the podium and watched the technical people install the teleprompter system and waited for the vice president. There were wo false alarms - each time the technicians unwrapped the plastic bags from the microphones we thought that Gore was on his way.

I stood by on an open cell phone line, waiting to alert CBS of the vice president's imminent arrival. Suddenly, there was a buzz in the crowd and rumors started flying. The vice president would not be coming out. There would be no concession speech.

We were told by campaign sources that the vice president had just made a second call to Texas Governor George W. Bush retracting his earlier concession call. Staffers facial expressions went from pained to shock and astonishment. There were no smiles.

Dan Rather suddenly appeared on TV with the shocking development - the race was not over. Moments later, Gore campaign chairman Bill Daley emerged in the rainy mist to announce there would be no concession. The crown went wild - from a mass low to a mass high.

The Secret Service summoned the traveling press to get back to the motorcade quickly. As we raced to the cars we passed actor-director Rob Reiner, who told us he could not have written a Hollywood script like this. We agreed big time.

Back at the hotel, the vice president was secluded in his suite.

The next afternoon, he and Sen. Joe Lieberman came out to deliver a brief statement reiterating that there would be no concession at that time.

We didn't see the vice president again until Thursday afternoon when he went jogging with two of his daughters. Once again, I was a member of the "pool." As he approached the cameras, I yelled at the top of my lungs, "Mr. Vice President, did you win this election, sir?" He had a broad smile on his face and replied, "It's a great day for a run."

He looked steady and calm. No one would have guessed the campaign history that had just been made. As he ran around the park, we knew the race for the presidency was still far from over.