Gore supporters are left to wonder

Final Day: Democrats
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If you heard it you would have to agree; the latest composition by Stevie Wonder is not among his greatest. But for one night - and for one long day across America - it served as an anthem for Democrats praying their man would be chosen as the next president.

If you heard it you would have to agree; the latest composition by Stevie Wonder is not among his greatest. But for one night - and for one long day across America - it served as an anthem for Democrats praying their man would be chosen as the next president.

Lame as the lyrics were, they lifted the souls of 60,000 Floridians on the beach in Miami in the wee hours of yesterday, election day. " The only way for America to win,/ Is to elect Al Gore and Lieberman." (You will have to set it to your own notes.)

Like a music teacher, Stevie had us roar his ill-rhyming refrain over and over, perhaps 40 times, before the man himself, the Vice-President, leapt on to the stage just before one in the morning, heralded by a circling helicopter. And we sang it again when the candidate was done talking and fireworks soared suddenly toward the moon, startling the seagulls.

What, the birds might have wondered, was going on among the sand dunes of South Beach at so dark an hour? What strange new human ritual was this? They were accidental witnesses to the final throes of a general election. Campaigning in the raw, not through television advertisements or by proxy through special interest groups. Here was a good and honest rally.

More precisely, it was Al Gore's last lunge at attaining the office his whole career has been aimed at. It was his final appeal for America's approval. Even as the clock passed midnight and the wheels of Air Force Two were touching down at Miami International, he was coming to the one state that perhaps mattered more than any other yesterday - Florida.

If his energy had been sagging, you could have forgiven him. During a final 30-hour sprint, he had gone without sleep, flying from Iowa, to Missouri, to Michigan, then to this state's southern tip. His opponent, George W Bush, had long ago departed the trail and gone to bed.

But the Vice-President was all energy. "South Florida," he declared, "is a place where America's future is being born." He didn't just deliver this last stump speech. He yelled it.

And the crowds, swarming on the sand and cramming Ocean Drive far from where anyone could have a hope of seeing the candidate, loved him for it. For all the stars who gathered here to boost him - Wonder, Ben Affleck, Glenn Close, Jon Bon Jovi and Robert De Niro among them - it was Al Gore for whom the crowd went screaming bonkers.

He has little of the charisma of the man he hopes to replace in the White House - again he admitted he "may not be the most exciting of politicians" - but on South Beach he seemed a genuine star. If he wakes this morning the loser, at least he will know he gave it his all until the very end.

"Go Al go," they chanted, interrupting his flow. "We want Gore." He tried one more time not just to lecture on policy specifics, but to paint an optimistic vision for the country, a place of tolerance and inclusion where "it doesn't matter what ethnicity you are, whom you fall in love with, what gender you are or what age you are".

With Tipper, his wife, taking occasional snap-shots behind him on the stage, he said he was appealing not just for the votes of Florida, but for more.

"I am asking you to open your hearts and I am asking all of you to genuinely believe the future is bright and we can make this nation what America was intended to be," he said. Yet, despite the music from the rock stars, despite the waving of a thousand little flags (even despite the neon-bright flip-flops distributed to every member of the media), Mr Gore's final rally did not feel as it was meant to.

It did not feel like a celebration of a candidate taking his supporters over the brink to victory. The rally was more about fear. "Oh, Jesus," one African-American woman gasped, sagging against a chicken-wire fence. "Oh, Jesus, let him win."

This lady was voicing what many on the beach fully understood. Mr Gore was just as likely to be facing the prospect of defeat. And the prospect of Mr Bush taking charge actually frightened her. Mr Gore reflected on that prospect, raising the spectre of oil-drilling close to Florida's shore, of tax cuts for billionaires, of the plundering of national insurance funds by the Republicans and of disregard for the environment and clean air. So did each of the entertainment world's stars.

"This is going to be the most important election of my generation," said Affleck. "And I don't want this fast-talking Texan who sounds like a used-car salesman. Al Gore was in public service before I was alive. George Bush didn't get a job until he was 40." At the beginning of Monday's marathon of campaigning, which began just after dawn outside a rain-swept tractor factory in Iowa, Mr Gore was whimsical of his quest that was just about done.

"Running for president around this country is one of the greatest experiences and one of the greatest honours that any individual could ever have.''

This morning, Mr Gore will know whether it was all worth it. And Mr Wonder will know whether he should record his new song or discreetly consign it to the litter bin.