Texas Governor George W. Bush won the crucial 25 electoral votes in Florida, and laid claim to the presidency of the United States on Sunday, promising Americans he would strive to "unite our great land" after a bitterly divisive and disputed election.
Two hours after the decisive state of Florida certified Bush as the winner of the electoral votes, and despite legal challenges already pending on the result, Bush broadcast to the nation from the Texas State Capitol.
Wearing a suit, blue tie, and flanked by two American flags, the Texas governor claimed the White House, and urged his opponent, Vice President Al Gore to halt all legal challenges to the deadlocked election.
"The election was close, but tonight after a count, a recount and yet another manual recount, secretary (Dick) Cheney and I are honored and humbled to have won the state of Florida, which gives us the needed electoral votes to win the election," Bush said.
"We will therefore undertake the responsibility of preparing to serve as America's next president and vice president," said Bush, who spoke slowly and carefully, in an apparent bid to appear statesmanlike.
In the speech, delivered from a wood-paneled room, he said that now the votes were counted, it was time for them to call it quits, and urged Gore to concede defeat in the fight to contest the November 7 poll.
"The vice presidents lawyers have indicated he will challenge the certified election results. I respectfully ask him to reconsider."
"If the vice president chooses to go forward, he is filing a contest to the outcome of the election, and that is not the best route for America."
Gore's lawyers and his vice-presidential running mate Senator Joseph Lieberman have already promised to challenge the certification of Florida, which handed the state's crucial 25 electoral votes to Bush.
Democrats are likely to condemn Bush's television appearance as a bid to preempt law suits, including one of his own before the federal Supreme Court, which challenges the elections.
But adding political meat to his rhetoric, Bush announced he had designated running mate Dick Cheney to head his transition team and nominated aide Andrew Card as his White House chief of staff.
"I've asked Secretary Cheney to work with President Clinton's administration to open a transition office in Washington. And we look forward to a constructive working relationship throughout this transition."
And, seeking to frame himself as the man to heal the wounds of the election, he appealed directly to all Americans of every political persuasion to put differences behind them.
"With our freedom comes responsibility, for all of us," he said.
"Once our elections are behind us, once our disagreements are expressed, we have a responsibility to honor our Constitution and laws, and come together to do the people's business."
"I will listen and I will respect different points of view, and, most of all, I will work to unite our great land."
Meanwhile, Bush will continue to press his appeal against hand recounts of ballots to the US Supreme Court, despite being officially declared Sunday the winner of Florida's presidential vote.
The Texas governor's legal adviser, former Secretary of State James Baker, said late Sunday that Bush would continue his appeals because his Democratic rival Al Gore has decided to contest the election results, which formally declared Bush the victor in the state's presidential contest by 537 votes.
The high court agreed last week to hear a filing by the Republican presidential candidate which seeks to block hand recounts in the state.
Gore had hoped that painstaking reexaminations of ballots in three, heavily-Democratic South Florida counties would whittle away Bush's slim lead in the state and confirm him the winner.
Vice President Al Gore is expected to deliver his own address to the nation on Monday -- AUSTIN, Texas (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)