George W. Bush appeared to win this morning's presidential election but Democrat Al Gore, who had called the Texas governor to congratulate him, retracted his concession throwing the election into confusion.
The latest extraordinary twist of an extraordinary night came after Bush seemed to have the 270 Electoral College votes he needed to win the presidency.
After a nail-biting night of results that went well into early Wednesday morning, TV networks said Bush went over the top at 2:18 a.m. EST (7:18 GMT) by carrying Florida, where his younger brother Jeb is governor.
But then confusion set in as the vote unexpectedly tightened in Florida. With 100 percent of the state's votes counted, Bush has 2'904'198 and Gore has 2'902'988. Election officials said there were possibly as many as 2'200 overseas ballots and absentee ballots in the state still to be tallied. State election official Ed Kast said a recount would be automatic if the victory margin was that small. Gore first called Bush to congratulate him, then called again a few minutes later to withdraw his concession. Bush communications director Karen Hughes said Bush found Gore's behaviour unbelievable as several newspapers stopped their presses. Gore campaign chairman William Daley said the TV networks' declaration that Bush had won the election was premature. We cannot be certain of the results of this national election, Daley said. Our campaign continues. Bush still seemed the more likely to end up in the White House. He carried at least 30 states, mostly in the nation's conservative heartland and in the South, including President Bill Clinton's home state of Arkansas and Gore's home state of Tennessee. Gore dominated most of the big industrial states, winning New York, where first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton won a seat in the Senate, and California. Gore called Bush to congratulate him within minutes after television networks projected his defeat and had been expected to address supporters still gathered in the pre-dawn rain at the Nashville war memorial. But minutes went by and he did not appear. If confirmed as president, Bush, 54, will succeed Clinton next Jan. 20. He will enter the highest office in the land eight years after his father, former President George Bush, left office. He would become the first presidential son since John Quincy Adams in 1825 to follow his father's footsteps into the White House.
Seen as genial and likable but relatively untested after only six years in politics and with no experience in foreign affairs, Bush will enter office without a strong mandate, leading the popular vote by a scant 49 percent to 48 percent.
Of 89 million votes counted, Bush's margin was around 186'000 votes, with less than 10 percent of the vote still to be tallied.
Bush would be the first Republican president since Dwight Eisenhower in 1953-55 to hold office while his party also controls both houses of Congress, albeit with razor thin majorities in each house. Republicans were projected to hold on to a one or two-seat narrow majority in the Senate, although Democrats were gaining two or three seats.
On a generally miserable night, Mrs. Clinton gave Democrats something to cheer, making history by winning a seat to represent New York in the Senate.