After losing the popular vote in 2000 but winning a narrow Electoral College victory, Bush could claim a mandate this time, as he racked up a 51%-48% plurality in the overall vote, while garnering a solid bloc of Southern, Midwestern, and Rocky Mountain states for a convincing electoral victory. The outcome was close, but not as close as most final polls predicted, with Bush gaining 274 electoral votes and Kerry 252. Iowa, with seven votes up for grabs, and New Mexico, with five, are still unsettled, but Bush is leading in both states' counts (see "Mapping the Road to the White House").
"It was a long night -- and a great night," Bush told cheering supporters waving American flags inside the cavernous Reagan Building on Pennsylvania Avenue, a few blocks from the White House. "I will need your support, and I will work to earn it. We are entering a season of hope."
"WE CANNOT WIN." Addressing his supporters in Boston's Fanueil Hall about an hour earlier, Kerry also remembered it as a "long night -- and a long morning." In the wee hours of Election Night, the Kerry campaign briefly mulled the idea of contesting Ohio's so-called "provisional votes" -- those that had been challenged for any number of reasons during the balloting -- in a bid to overcome a narrow 100,000-vote loss margin.
But in the end, Kerry decided "we cannot win this election," as he told his backers. Outside, a small Boston crowd gathered in a chill wind to continue the debate (see "Out in the Cold on Nov. 3").
Bush's victory also lifted several GOP Senate candidates to wins, as the Republicans increased their hold on both the House and the Senate (see "The GOP's Tighter Grip in Congress"). Bush now has an chance to pursue an aggressive agenda of overhauling the tax code and Social Security, and promoting what he called the "deepest values of family and faith."
"COMPASSION" COMING? In the end, Republican turnout was key, as the GOP generated huge numbers of new and committed voters who showed up at the voting booths (see BW Online's blog, Party Lines). In his concession speech, Kerry challenged Bush. "America is in need of unity and longing for a larger measure of compassion," the Democrat said. "I hope President Bush will advance those values in the coming years."
Now comes the hard part for the President: assembling an agenda for a second term that brings a divided nation together.