Bush became the 46th governor of Texas on 8 November 1994, defeating incumbent Ann Richards, with 53.5 percent of the vote. In office, he forged bipartisan coalitions with the conservative legislature's Democrats and passed changes to tort laws and welfare, public-school, and juvenile-justice systems. Known as a centrist and coalition builder, Bush described himself as a different sort of Republican: conservative, but compassionate. His platform, which extends into his presidency, was based on the principle of limited government, personal responsibility, strong family values and local control. He appears less concerned with policy details than with garnering support among legislators, the public and the news media. Some say this approach has made him more effective in passing his agenda into law. Many people, including Democrats, praised his choices for appointments, which were considered unusually well-qualified. As governor, he appealed to Hispanic voters in Spanish and became very popular among them, an unusual feat for a Republican.
In 1997, he faced his most difficult defeat when Republicans in the Texas legislature deserted his plan to overhaul the tax-system. In it, proposed cuts in property taxes were to be paid for with increases in the sales tax, new taxes on businesses, and a first-ever tax on lawyers, doctors, and others belonging to professional partnerships. Despite some set-backs, his improvement of educational standards in Texas is considered a crowning achievement. He was reelected on 3 November 1998 by a landslide, winning 68.6% of the vote. On that day, he became the first Texas governor to be elected to consecutive four-year terms.
In 1999, Bush began his campaign for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination, and quickly raised more campaign funds than any other presidential candidate in history. However, there has probably never been a U.S. presidential victory as hotly debated. He generally appeared to lead in the polls throughout the election, yet lost the popular vote. Ultimately, he won a slim victory by garnering votes in the electoral college. A controversy about the results ensued, underscored by the Democrats' scrutiny of the vote counting process in Florida, which could make or break either candidate. Presidential hopeful Al Gore challenged Bush's victory in Florida in court, but to no avail. On 20 January 2001, George W. Bush was inaugurated as the country's 43rd president and became the first person in more than a century to become president without achieving at least a plurality in the popular vote.