An elated President Bush claimed a reelection victory yesterday after a tumultuous night of vote counting and a gracious concession by challenger John F. Kerry, and he pledged that he would seek to earn the trust of those who did not back him during the long, contentious campaign.
In an explicit appeal to those Americans who voted for Kerry, Bush said: "To make this nation stronger and better, I will need your support, and I will work to earn it. I will do all I can do to deserve your trust. A new term is a new opportunity to reach out to the whole nation."
Bush spoke to jubilant supporters at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, where he had planned to go for a pre-dawn victory speech after he had won Florida's 27 electoral votes and appeared to have locked up Ohio's 20 votes. He postponed that event when Kerry declined to concede the election overnight and signaled a possible fight over the vote totals in Ohio.
But an hour before Bush's appearance, an emotional Kerry took the stage at Boston's historic Faneuil Hall to offer Bush his congratulations and a formal concession. The Massachusetts senator had called Bush earlier to convey the same message privately. Kerry snuffed out the hopes of many Democrats who were eager to keep the fight for the White House alive by declaring, "We cannot win this election."
Bush will begin his second term with strengthened majorities in the House and Senate. With GOP candidates picking off a string of Democratic open seats, Republicans expanded their Senate caucus from 51 to 55 members -- a significant gain but still not a filibuster-proof margin. Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.) lost his reelection bid to former congressman John Thune (R). In the House, the GOP added three seats and could emerge with a 29-seat majority once all the races are concluded.
With the second term that eluded his father secured, Bush pivoted to the task of trying to heal a nation that appeared on Tuesday as culturally and geographically divided as the country that produced the disputed presidential election in 2000. Vice President Cheney said that Bush had run on a clear agenda and that "the nation resounded by giving him a mandate."
Bush's speech offered an olive branch to the opposition, but he provided no hint of policy concessions to the Democrats. He outlined a domestic agenda that included broad tax reform and a proposal to allow younger workers to establish personal accounts with some of their Social Security payroll taxes. Many Democrats oppose his Social Security plans, and he may face partisan opposition on tax reform.
The president also vowed to continue to put the fight against terrorism at the forefront of his agenda, saying, "With good allies at our side, we will fight this war on terror with every resource of our national power so our children can live in freedom and in peace."
His stance on terrorism proved to be a significant political asset on Tuesday, but Bush faces enormous problems in trying to stabilize Iraq and pull off elections there scheduled for early next year. In his speech, the president did not mention the frayed international relationships that also will occupy him now that the election is over.
Bush claimed 51 percent of the popular vote to Kerry's 48 percent, with a margin of about 3.5 million votes, removing the label of minority president that he had carried since 2000. Four years ago, Bush lost the popular vote to Vice President Al Gore, but on Tuesday he became the first president since his father in 1988 to be elected with a majority of all votes cast. Independent Ralph Nader proved to be a non-factor, winning less than 1 percent.
With Ohio in his column, Bush won 30 states and 279 electoral votes. Kerry won 19 states and the District for 252 electoral votes. Iowa and its seven electoral votes remain in doubt. Bush was leading there with 100 percent of precincts reporting, and while counties were still tabulating absentee and provisional ballots, officials in the state said they did not expect a change in the lead.
Two states -- New Hampshire, which went for Kerry, and New Mexico, which went for Bush -- switched sides from 2000, despite efforts by both sides to take the campaigns into each other's territory.
Nearly 120 million Americans voted, or about 60 percent of those eligible, the highest number since 1968, according to the Associated Press. Many strategists believed an increase of that magnitude would favor Kerry, but the Bush campaign proved more than equal to the task of getting supporters to vote.
The swift and courteous end to the campaign came in marked contrast to the emotional roller coaster that played out overnight and that provided eerie similarities to the triggering events that produced the 36-day recount in Florida four years ago.