In the early morning hours of November 8, 2000, Al Gore telephoned George W. Bush to retract his concession in the presidential election and famously told him, “You don’t have to get snippy about this.” Neither candidate spoke publicly that night, but in close elections since, candidates have taken the stage to deliver a new kind of Election Night speech — a speech by a candidate who would not know for certain whether he or she had won or lost until the next morning.
As a former political speechwriter, I think it’s one of the toughest speeches in politics to give. The setting is high profile, the situation on the ground is in flux, the candidate is exhausted. And while campaigns often prepare two Election Night speeches — a victory speech and a concession speech — no matter how close the polls are in the weeks and days leading up to Election Day, this is one speech that is never written in advance.
As a lawyer, I’ve had a front row seat for six such speeches, and the best I’ve ever seen was delivered early Wednesday morning by now Governor-Elect Charlie Baker in Massachusetts — grateful, graceful, genuine, poignant, and restrained. He thanked his supporters sincerely. He mentioned his opponent in a very thoughtful way. He gave his opponent political space by ceding her right to wait to make a final decision in the morning. He acknowledged the public’s interest in the accuracy of election results, but shifted the focus to the finality that soon would follow. For candidates in future close elections, this is textbook.
Watch it here: