In declaring victory and appealing for a bipartisan approach to major domestic issues, Republican George W. Bush 'respectfully' asked rival Al Gore to drop all legal challenges and concede the presidency.
The prospect of a new president may prove a powerful draw for the public after three weeks of bitter legal wrangling following the election. An ABC news poll after Mr Bush's statement suggested 60 per cent of Americans were ready to accept him as president.
To beat the odds, Mr Gore must defeat Mr Bush's appeal against re-counts in the US Supreme Court on Friday and force re-counts through legal action across Florida - a task without historical precedent. He must do this in a way that does not make it appear that he is just seeking re-counts of votes that favour him.
At the same time, he must silence voices within his party that the time has come to concede. Two former counsels in the Clinton White House have claimed his chances of taking power are now slim.
While political, legal and bureaucratic institutions have been playing down a sense of crisis amid the confusion, it is clear the impasse is taking a toll.
The Washington Post's editorial pages, which are considered a bastion of liberal thought, warned on Sunday that the Florida debacle was the manifestation of a political system in 'serious disrepair. The country has drifted into a kind of mercenary, scorched-earth politics where the issue seems to be the winning of power irrespective of its possible uses . . . the only thing that matters is the candidate standing at the end,' it warned.
Mr Bush's blunt declaration of victory throws a bone to the most fiercely partisan Republicans in Washington, the congressional heavies. The likes of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and House whip Tom DeLay have already spread talk of boycotting any Gore inauguration or, more seriously, finding legislative means to stop him taking power.
David Broder, an experienced Washington observer, warned that the odds against Mr Gore were 'now longer than ever'.
As presumptuous, cunning and theatrical as Mr Bush's new claim to victory may have been, it may have worked in his favour - for the moment, at least.