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Concession Speeches Capture A Gracious Moment In Election Season


The last thing presidential candidates want to think about - what they'll say when the other person wins. There's a fine art to when and how to give a concession speech. NPR's Ron Elving explores the tradition no one wants to be a part of.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Just four years ago, Mitt Romney was apparently confident enough that he did not prepare even a draft of a concession speech. So with midnight approaching and the writing on the wall, he had to sketch out a few remarks and take the stage with his family.


MITT ROMNEY: I so wish - I so wish that I had been able to fulfill your hopes to lead the country in a different direction. But the nation chose another leader. And so Ann and I join with you to earnestly pray for him and for this great nation. Thank you, and God bless America.

ELVING: Other candidates have had ample warning from their own pollsters and at least a day or two to accept it. As a consequence, they have often fashioned memorable speeches, highlights of their campaigns, one might say. As a Shakespeare character once said of a Scottish rebel who died heroically in battle, nothing in his life became him like the leaving it. John McCain defined that kind of grace in 2008 when he offered these congratulations to his opponent.


JOHN MCCAIN: Senator Obama has achieved a great thing for himself and for his country. I applaud him for it and offer him my sincere sympathy that his beloved grandmother did not live to see this day, though our faith assures us she is at rest in the presence of her creator and so very proud of the good man she helped raise.

ELVING: Jimmy Carter was gracious in defeat in 1980, swept out of office by the first of Ronald Reagan's two landslides. But what people remember most about that speech was not what he said, but when he said it. Carter issued his farewell shortly after polls had closed on the East Coast. It was still late afternoon in California, and at least some of the voters headed for the polls that day went home instead. Democrats thought their candidates for other offices that day had been sandbagged by Carter's eagerness to say uncle. There wasn't much suspense in 1996 when Senator Bob Dole challenged President Bill Clinton's bid for a second term. Here's how the indomitable Dole bowed out.


BOB DOLE: Let me say that I've talked to President Clinton. We had a good visit, and I congratulated him. And I've said...


DOLE: No. No. No. Wait a minute. Wait a minute.

ELVING: His crowd of supporters reacted with disbelief and alarm.


DOLE: I have said repeatedly in this - I have said repeatedly in this campaign that the president was my opponent and not my enemy. And I wish him well. And I pledge my support in whatever advances the cause of a better America because that's what the race was about in the first place, a better America as we go into the next century.

ELVING: And then there was the brief but indelible address given by Al Gore in December of the year 2000. It came five weeks after Election Day and one day after the U.S. Supreme Court had overruled the Florida Supreme Court and ended Gore's challenge to George W. Bush's margin of victory in that state, which was 537 votes.


AL GORE: Almost a century and a half ago, Senator Stephen Douglas told Abraham Lincoln, who had just defeated him for the presidency, partisan feeling must yield to patriotism. I'm with you, Mr. President, and God bless you. Well, in that same spirit, I say to President-elect Bush that what remains of partisan rancor must now be put aside. And may God bless his stewardship of this country.

ELVING: Memorable moments in speechmaking from a distinguished group of statesmen, but not a club any candidate wishes to join. Ron Elving, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.
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