Five weeks after Election Day, George W. Bush at last laid claim to the presidency Wednesday night with a pledge to "seize this moment" and deliver reconciliation and unity to a nation divided. Al Gore exited the tortuously close race, exhorting the nation to put aside partisan rancor and support its new chief executive.
"I was not elected to serve one party, but to serve one nation," America's soon-to-be 43rd president told Americans in a nationally televised address from the chamber of the Texas House of Representatives. The Texas governor chose that setting, he said, because he had been able to work there with Democrats and Republicans alike.
"Our nation must rise above a house divided," he said hopefully, echoing a reference from Scripture spoken by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. "Our votes may differ, but not our hopes."
His wife, Laura, beamed from the sidelines, and got her own standing ovation when Bush spoke of her future role as first lady.
Bush was preceded by Gore, who delivered his call for national unity in a televised concession.
"May God bless his stewardship of this country," the vice president said of the Republican who vanquished him. Gore, who called Bush to concede shortly before his speech, joked that he had promised not to "call him back this time," a reference to the concession he phoned to Bush on Election Night and later withdrew.
Bush said it had been a "gracious call" from Gore, adding, "I understand how difficult this moment must be" for him.
The two made plans to meet in Washington on Tuesday.
The world also prepared for a new American leader. British Prime Minister Tony Blair sent Bush good wishes shortly after Gore's concession. "It was a long and agonizing wait for you. I'm very glad it is finally settled," Blair said.
Victorious Republicans, in conciliatory and sympathetic tones, prepared to claim control of both the White House and Congress for the first time in more than 45 years, while Democrats talked ominously of deep partisan schisms and condemned the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that pushed Gore from the race.
"This might be the end of a campaign, but it's just the beginning of a much longer, difficult process," Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, said.
In a televised address that lasted less than 10 minutes, Gore mixed words of unity with the unmistakable message that he felt wronged by the Supreme Court ruling that stopped the Florida recount and prompted his concession.
"While I strongly disagree with the court's decision, I accept it," he said. "I accept the finality of this outcome."
He allowed there would be time for disagreements down the road, but said "now is the time to recognize that that which unites us is greater than that which divides us."
Leaving the White House office that he soon will vacate, Gore was greeted outside by cheering supporters who chanted "Gore in Four," a hopeful wish for his political revival in 2004.
Bush moved quickly into the breach, asking the Texas Democratic House speaker to introduce him for his national address. He told campaign chairman Don Evans to reach out to Gore chairman William Daley -- a move that led to the scheduling of the two rivals' meeting next week. And he dusted off transition plans laid dormant by the legal wrangling, as aides reminded reporters that a Democrat or two were certain to join the Bush administration.
In his first act as president-elect, Bush will attend a "prayer and hope" church service Thursday in Austin, spokeswoman Karen Hughes said. "He wants to start this on a message of prayer and healing," she said.
Each move was calculated to heal divisions caused by the brutal, five-week election postscript. His mandate in doubt, Bush already is being urged to curb his legislative agenda, particularly the $1.3 trillion program of tax cuts over 10 years.
Across the nation, Americans took stock and looked forward -- with hope and doubts.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.