- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie took to the stage shortly before 1 a.m. this morning and told a crowd of cheering President Bush supporters at the Ronald Reagan Building that “we are this close” as he held his thumb and forefinger an inch apart.

Earlier in the day, network and cable TV exit polls had put Mr. Bush behind in several battleground states — some, by double digits — creating a funereal mood. But that all started to change by 9 p.m. as those same networks began to show real numbers from real voters.

By midnight, with battleground state Florida solidly in the president’s column and Ohio looking to do the same, a senior White House official took to the stage to wild cheers from several hundred supporters packed into a lower-level atrium.

“I have a feeling we’re going to have some very, very good news before the night is over,” Karen Hughes said to thunderous cheers.

Making the rounds in the crowd, Education Secretary Rod Paige expressed confidence that by the end of the election, Americans would re-elect the president.

“So far, so good,” Mr. Paige said. “I’m confident that the American people respect authentic leadership and that’s all that’s required to return the president to the Oval Office.”

In the expansive atrium of the Reagan Building, large-screen televisions tuned to the Fox News Channel showed the crawl of returns coming in from battleground states.

Mr. Bush earlier had expressed confidence that he had done all he could to convince voters he was the best candidate to lead the nation. He had concluded his campaign with an 18-hour, seven-city swing that covered 2,500 miles on Monday.

“This election is in the hands of the people, and I feel very comfortable about that. The people know where I stand,” Mr. Bush said.

After a quick stop in Ohio — where he thanked campaign volunteers and even worked the phones to the surprise of some callers — the president returned to the White House, where he was welcomed by hundreds of flag-waving, cheering staffers.

Mr. Bush watched the election returns alongside family and top aides at the Executive Mansion.

While in Ohio, a state no Republican president has ever lost, Mr. Bush said, “We campaigned as hard as we possibly could.

“I have made the differences as clear as possible about why I think I am the best leader for the country for the next four years. You know, we’ll find out tonight what the American people think, and I’m looking forward to it,” he said.

His day began just after dawn in a cold drizzle in his hometown of Crawford. After voting with family members, including first lady Laura Bush and twin daughters Jenna and Barbara, he spoke with reporters.

He said the election can be boiled down to one simple question: “Who do you trust?”

“This is a campaign of trust: Who do you trust to secure this country, who do you trust to lead with firmness and steadfast resolution, protect the American people; who do you trust to adhere to the values, the values that most people agree with; and who do you trust to keep this economy growing?”

Mr. Bush praised his Democratic opponent, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry. “I wish him all the best. We’ve given it our all and I’m sure he is happy, like I am, that the campaign has come to a conclusion.”

Earlier, when the polls showed the election could turn either way, Mr. Bush expressed his hope that the outcome will be known shortly after the nation’s polls close.

“I think it’s very important for it to end tonight. The world watches our great democracy function. There would be nothing better for our system for the election to be conclusively over tonight so that — I think it’s going to be — so I can go on and lead this country and bring people together, set an agenda, which will be to make sure America is secure, expand our prosperity and move forward and bring Republicans and Democrats together,” Mr. Bush said.

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