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Kerry concedes to Bush

Nov. 4, 2004

In wake of divisive election, candidates call for national, bipartisan unity

By CALVIN WOODWARD, associated press writer

WASHINGTON -- President George W. Bush won four more years in the White House on Wednesday and pledged to "fight this war on terror with every resource of our national power." Sen. John Kerry conceded defeat rather than challenge the vote count in make-or-break Ohio.

"I will need your support and I will work to earn it," the president said in an appeal to the 55 million Americans who voted for his Democratic rival. "We are entering a season of hope," he said.

The president spoke before thousands of cheering supporters less than an hour after his vanquished opponent ended a campaign that brought him achingly close to victory. "We cannot win this election," Kerry said in an emotional farewell.

Associated Press
President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush attend a victory rally Wednesday at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington.
The re-election triumph gave the president a new term to pursue the war in Iraq and a conservative, tax-cutting agenda at home -- and probably the chance to name one or more justices to an aging Supreme Court.

He also will preside alongside expanded Republican majorities in Congress. The GOP gained four Senate seats and bolstered its majority in the House by at least two.

Vice President Dick Cheney told the Republican victory rally that the results of Tuesday's elections translated into a mandate for the president's policies.

Bush sketched only the barest outline of a second term agenda, talking of reforming an "outdated tax code," overhauling Social Security and upholding the "deepest values of family and faith."

The candidates' public appearances signaled the end of a campaign waged over the anti-terror war and the economy.

Hours earlier, Kerry had telephoned Bush with a private concession. Aides to both men stressed they had agreed on a need to heal the nation after a long and frequently bitter campaign.

Ohio's 20 electoral votes gave Bush 274 in the Associated Press count, four more than the 270 needed for victory. Kerry had 252 electoral votes, with Iowa (7) and New Mexico (5) unsettled.

Bush was winning 51 percent of the popular vote to 48 percent for his rival. He led by more than 3 million ballots.

Officials in both camps described the telephone conversation between two campaign warriors. A Democratic source said Bush called Kerry a worthy, tough and honorable opponent. Kerry told Bush the country was too divided, and Bush agreed, the source said.

Yet Kerry's public remarks contained an element of challenge to the Republican president. "America is in need of unity and longing for a larger measure of compassion," he said. "I hope President Bush will advance those values in the coming years."

Kerry placed his call after weighing unattractive options overnight. With Bush holding fast to a six-figure lead in Ohio, Kerry could give up or trigger a struggle that would have stirred memories of the bitter recount in Florida that propelled Bush to the White House in 2000.

The day's events provided the last measure of drama in a campaign full of it. While Bush remains in the White House, Kerry returns to the Senate, part of a shrunken Democratic minority.

Running mate John Edwards, who gave up his North Carolina Senate seat rather than seek a new term, instantly becomes a leading contender for the party's presidential nomination in 2008.

Kerry conceded hours after White House chief of staff Andy Card declared Bush the winner and White House aides said the president was giving Kerry time to consider his next step.

One senior Democrat familiar with the discussions in Boston said Edwards had suggested they shouldn't concede. Advisers said the campaign wanted one last look for uncounted ballots that might close the 136,000-vote advantage Bush held in Ohio.

An Associated Press survey of the state's 88 counties found there were about 150,000 uncounted provisional ballots and an unspecified number of absentee votes still to be counted.

Ohio aside, New Mexico and Iowa remained too close to call in a race for the White House framed by a worldwide war against terror and economic worries at home.

But those two states were for the record -- Ohio alone had the electoral votes to swing the election to the man in the White House or his Democratic challenger. A GOP legal and political team was dispatched overnight to Ohio in case Kerry made a fight of it.

Republicans already were celebrating election gains in Congress. They picked up four seats in the Senate, and they drove Democratic leader Tom Daschle from office.

That will be the state of play on Capitol Hill for the next two years, with the chance of a Supreme Court nomination fight looming along with legislative battles.

Republicans also reinforced their majority in the House.

Glitches galore cropped up in overwhelmed polling places as Americans voted in high numbers, fired up by unprecedented registration drives, the excruciatingly close contest and the sense that these were unusually consequential times.

"The mood of the voter in this election is different than any election I've ever seen," said Sangamon County, Ill., clerk Joseph Aiello. "There's more passion. They seem to be very emotional. They're asking lots of questions, double-checking things."

The country exposed its rifts on matters of great import in Tuesday's voting. Exit polls found the electorate split down the middle or very close to it on whether the nation is moving in the right direction, on what to do in Iraq, on whom they trust with their security.

Bush built a solid foundation by hanging on to almost all the battleground states he got last time. Facing the cruel arithmetic of attrition, Kerry needed to do more than go one state better than Al Gore four years ago; redistricting since then had left those 2000 Democratic prizes 10 electoral votes short of the total needed to win the presidency.

Florida fell to Bush again, close but no argument about it.

Bush's relentless effort to wrest Pennsylvania from the Democratic column fell short. He had visited the state 44 times, more than any other. Kerry picked up New Hampshire in perhaps the election's only turnover.

In Ohio, Kerry won among young adults, but lost in every other age group. One-fourth of Ohio voters identified themselves as born-again Christians and they backed Bush by a 3-to-1 margin.

A sideline issue in the national presidential campaign, gay civil unions may have been a sleeper that hurt Kerry -- who strongly supports that right -- in Ohio and elsewhere. Ohioans expanded their law banning gay marriage, already considered the toughest in the country, with an even broader constitutional amendment against civil unions.

In all, voters in 11 states approved constitutional amendments limiting marriage to one man and one woman.

In Florida, Kerry again won only among voters under age 30. Six in 10 voters said Florida's economy was in good shape, and they voted heavily for Bush. Voters also gave the edge to Bush's handling of terrorism.

In Senate contests, Rep. John Thune's victory over Daschle represented the first defeat of a Senate party leader in a re-election race in more than a half century.