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Monday November 27, 2000

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Bush says he's honored to win Florida's contested election

By The Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas-Texas Gov. George W. Bush said last night he was "honored and humbled" to have won Florida's contested election and he asked Al Gore to reconsider his decision to contest the outcome.

A further challenge of the results in Florida, Bush said, "is not the best route for America."

Bush said the Florida certification "gives us the needed electoral votes to win the election" and the White House.

In late night remarks delivered from the Texas state capitol, Bush said he and running mate Dick Cheney would "undertake the responsibility of preparing to serve as America's next president and vice president."

Talking as though he were president-elect, although he did not use those words, Bush said he had asked Cheney to work with President Clinton's administration to open a transition office in Washington.

Bush also said he would tap Andrew Card, a top aide, to serve as his chief of staff.

Bush spoke a little more than two hours after Katherine Harris, the Florida secretary of state, certified him as the winner of the state's vote - and the 25 electoral votes that would give him enough to defeat Gore in the Electoral College.

Harris' final certified totals gave Bush and Cheney a margin of 537 votes out of roughly 6 million cast on Election Day nearly three weeks ago. Within minutes, Gore's campaign reaffirmed its plans to file a formal challenge - known as a contest in state law - based on complaints about the manual recounts that were undertaken in a handful of counties.

In his brief, nationally televised remarks, Bush said, "I respectfully ask him to reconsider."

He added, "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."

For the first time since election night, there was talk not of vote counts and recounts and legal challenges, but of the issues that drove the campaign.

"I will work with members of Congress from both parties to reduce tax rates for everyone who pays taxes in America," Bush pledged.

He also mentioned education, retirement issues and Medicare, and said, "we have a duty to find common ground to reform these vital programs for the greatest generation and for future generations."

In the moments before the speech, Bush was joined in his office by his top aides, Card among them. Cheney, released from the hospital on Friday after suffering a mild heart attack, was at his home in suburban Washington.

Bush and his aides celebrated with champagne and cigars after his remarks, although he dispatched his spokeswoman, Karen Hughes, to make one point.

"He prefers we call him Governor Bush" until Gore makes a move to drop his contest of the election and concedes, she told reporters.

Earlier in the day, there were no signs of a celebration in the making.

In the morning the Texas governor went to church at Tarrytown United Methodist Church, where pastor James L. Mayfield asked that Bush and Gore be granted guidance and grace.

''We are especially concerned about our nation,'' said Mayfield. ''We ask God's guidance and comfort and grace be with both candidates and their families as they go through this time of stress in this difficult time for our nation.''

Bush shook hands and posed for pictures with parishioners after church but did not speak to reporters.

He returned to the governor's residence, where workers were putting up holiday decorations outside. There he worked the phones, speaking to former Secretary of State James A. Baker III in Florida, chief strategist Karl Rove, campaign chairman Don Evans and spokeswoman Hughes.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments next Friday on Bush's appeal that seeks a review of the Florida Supreme Court's ruling that the hand recounts requested by Gore should go forward.

Bush could drop his appeal if he should get Florida's votes, but that could be risky because it would keep in place the votes Gore has picked up in the recount putting the vice president closer to winning in any post-certification contest.

AP-WS-11-26-00 2217EST

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