Voters settled a hard-fought presidential race Tuesday between political heirs Al Gore and George W. Bush in an election that offered a choice between the continuation of Democratic policies and a Republican "fresh start."
As polls closed in the East, Bush was awarded Indiana, Kentucky and South Carolina, and Gore Vermont all as expected according to interviews as voters left their polling places. But four other states, including the battlegrounds of Florida and New Hampshire, were too close to call at poll-closing setting the stage for a long, tense night of vote counting across the country.
The poll by Voter News Service said that nationwide, 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.
The GOP battled to retain their fragile six-year hold on Congress and voters faced a full roster of propositions and state and local offices on the first general election day of the 21st Century. Indiana Democratic Gov. Frank O'Bannon was reelected as were Sens. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., Zell Miller, D-Ga. and James Jeffords, D-Vt.
Bush, voting in Austin a block from the Texas Governor's Mansion, proclaimed he was "calm about what the people are going to decide." But he said he'd phoned his parents, the former president and first lady, and "they're nervous."
Gore voted at a school in Tennessee, where he'd first been elected to Congress a quarter century ago and where his father had been a senator before him. Tennessee is much more Republican now, and Gore was struggling to win his home state.
Pre-election surveys indicated the presidential race would be among the closest in recent memory in an election that would foretell the end to Bill Clinton's turbulent eight years in office.
There were hopes the showdown would inspire higher turnout, reversing the trend of recent elections. At a West Little Rock polling site, the line snaked through a church gymnasium and out into the parking lot. In Reisterstown, Md., attorney Paul Beckman said, "I'd walk a mile to vote."
The voting day poll indicated Bush fared well among those who cared most about world affairs and taxes. Voters who cared most about Medicare and prescription drugs, Social Security, health care and the economy tended to favor Gore. Both candidates were seen as good for schools, an issue that traditionally has favored Democrats.
Individual considerations had an impact: Voters who cared most about a candidate's honesty favored Bush and those who wanted a president with experience mostly sided with Gore.
About one in four said reports that Bush had been arrested in 1976 for drunken driving was important to their vote. Nearly half of voters said Clinton "scandals" was an important reason for their choice.
Eleven gubernatorial contests were being decided Tuesday, along with legislatures that will wield wide influence in next year's congressional redistricting.
In New York, all eyes were on the Senate race where new resident Hillary Rodham Clinton mounted an effort to become the first first lady ever elected to such high office.
Another spouse was in the Senate spotlight. Republican Sen. John Ashcroft faced a tough re-election fight against the late Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan, whose name remained on the ballot after his October death. The Democrat's widow, Jean, said she would accept appointment if her husband topped the balloting.
Democrats needed to gain eight seats to wrest control of the House; and five in the Senate.
But it was the race between the son of a former president and the son of a former senator that captured the attention of voters who had often ignored politics during recent years of relative peace and ongoing prosperity.
Bush, 54, just six years into his first political job, promised to end the Clinton-Gore "season of cynicism," cut taxes, improve schools, build up the military and reshape Social Security. Benefiting from family connections and Texas-sized expectations, Bush raised a record-shattering $103 million as he aimed to settle a score as well as reach the political pinnacle: Clinton-Gore swept his father from office in 1993.
America has had father-and-son presidents only once: John Adams (1797-1801) and John Quincy Adams (1825-1829).
In TV ads and on the campaign trail, Bush said Gore couldn't be trusted. Gore, 52, said Bush didn't have the experience to be president. The Texas governor countered by tapping his father's defense secretary Dick Cheney, a Washington veteran, as running mate.
Gore chose Sen. Joe Lieberman, the first Jewish candidate on a major national ticket, and a voice of moral authority during the Clinton impeachment period.
Green Party candidate Ralph Nader threatened Gore's base in half-a-dozen states, appealing to liberals and independents. Under pressure from some Democratic liberals to back off, Nader countered: "The only wasted vote is for someone you don't believe in."
His goal was to get 5 percent or more to qualify his party for federal money for the next election. Pat Buchanan, the Reform Party candidate, faded badly.
After eight months and $250 million in TV ads, most pre-election polls showed Bush with a narrow advantage in the popular vote, and he sought victory-sealing upsets in Democratic-leaning states like California and Wisconsin. But the vice president had hopes in those states, too, and was running hard in battleground states such as Florida, Pennsylvania and Michigan. It all made for an unpredictable race to 270 electoral votes a majority of the 538 total, and sparked speculation that the election could conceivably be the first in a century where the winner of the popular vote was the loser in the all-important Electoral College.
In a grand test of self-financing, New Jersey investment banker Jon Corzine spent more than $50 million of his own money in a bid for an open Senate seat, but was not a sure bet to win.
With every House seat up for grabs, Rep. Jim Rogan fought to hold his seat in southern California in an $8 million battle with State Sen. Adam Schiff that was the costliest House race in history. The results were being closely watched in Washington where Rogan was a leader in the impeachment effort.
Along with the governors races, about 200 legislative contests could settle the balance of power in 20 states and determine which party controls the redrawing of political districts for the next decade.
In a burst of direct democracy, 42 state ballots offered 204 citizen initiatives and referendums from legislatures.