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Florida's Midterm Election Recounts Bring Back Memories Of 2000

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Recounts in several Florida elections this year brought back memories of election night 2000, when the state was first called for Al Gore and then for George W. Bush. Gore conceded the election then changed his mind as the Florida vote continued to come in. His campaign chairman Bill Daley announced that decision.

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BILL DALEY: But this race is simply too close to call. And until the recount is concluded and the results of Florida become official, our campaign continues.

INSKEEP: As it did until a Supreme Court decision - that recount and many others are the subjects we're discussing this week in our regular Ask Cokie segment. Cokie Roberts takes your questions about how politics and the government work.

Hi there, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK. Our first question here.

ROBERT ANDRESON: Hi. This is Robert Andreson. I live in Park Ridge, N.J. And I was wondering, how often do recounts end in a changing result?

ROBERTS: It doesn't happen very often, but it happens. Look at that very close race for the Minnesota Senate in 2008 when the incumbent, Republican Norm Coleman, was up by 206 votes on Election Day. But that was such a small margin that it triggered a recount, which went on for months and ended up in court. Finally, Democrat Al Franken was declared the winner by 312 votes. He wasn't able to take his Senate seat until July instead of January. That's how long it went on.

INSKEEP: I guess that's a partial answer to our next question from a listener who asks - do Democrats ever come out on top after a recount?

ROBERTS: Well, sure. And in two that I covered, it happened. One was the infamous Indiana 8th Congressional District, called the Bloody Eighth, when Democrat Frank McCloskey won on Election Day. This was 1984. But the recount put Republican Rick McIntyre up. He came to Congress, did orientation. I went and watched the recount. It was painful because it was such a mess. You could just watch these ballots just be incomprehensible. Eventually, the House Administration Committee took it over. The recount was eventually - put McCloskey as the winner by four votes.

INSKEEP: Wow.

ROBERTS: And there was huge Republican outrage. Covering that Congress was quite something. They walked out. Newt Gingrich kind of became more powerful as a result of leading the walkouts and the outrage. And he used that race to portray the Democrats as corrupt.

INSKEEP: Wow - an example of a case where losing a close race became ammunition for the side that lost.

ROBERTS: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: You also covered another one of these races, you said.

ROBERTS: Well, this one was a hoot. It was a state legislative race in Pennsylvania in 1978, when the legislature was tied - 101 Democrats, 101 Republicans.

INSKEEP: Wow.

ROBERTS: And the remaining race was tied. So I went up to Gettysburg. The courthouse was built in 1804. And the counters hauled out these 50 big metal boxes out of the jailhouse. They pried them open and started counting - one, two, three...

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERTS: I thought I'd be there a while. But the Democrat did eventually win.

INSKEEP: We have one more question from listener who says, what's the closest election margin determined by a recount? And you know, we might have just heard it. That sounded pretty close, what you were talking about. But what is it?

ROBERTS: It does happen in legislative races fairly often. On the national level, the New Hampshire Senate election in 1974 was the closest in Senate history. There were recounts, court cases - finally had to call a new election. And Democrat John Durkin won. But again, it energized Republicans.

INSKEEP: Cokie, thanks so much as always.

ROBERTS: Good to talk to you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Commentator Cokie Roberts. You can ask Cokie your questions about how politics and the government work by emailing us at askcokie@npr.org or tweet us with the hashtag #AskCokie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.