Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Sen. John Kerry, with a single telephone call congratulating President Bush yesterday morning, threw off the role of failed presidential candidate leading an embittered minority party and instead became a healer and statesman.

“It was absolutely the right thing to do, because it headed off a long nightmare of litigation, which could have cast a pall on the election, whoever was confirmed as the winner,” said C. Boyden Gray, White House counsel in the administration of Mr. Bush’s father. “And it would have embarrassed this country at a time when the United States is trying to spread democracy abroad.”

Republicans were virtually unanimous in the view that, by graciously conceding Ohio and therefore the presidential election to Mr. Bush, the Massachusetts Democrat put national unity and love of country ahead of partisan politics and personal disappointment.

In his concession speech at Boston’s Faneuil Hall, Mr. Kerry said that when he called the president, the two men “had a good conversation, we talked about the danger of division in our country and the need, the desperate need, for unity, for finding the common ground, coming together.”

Democrats had thousands of lawyers ready to pounce on Ohio and contest the outcome. Mr. Kerry, in effect, called them off. And he did it, leading Republicans noted, despite demands from supporters across the country that he hang on until the last provisional ballot in Ohio was counted, despite Mr. Bush’s 3 million vote advantage in the national popular vote.

“I commend Senator Kerry for recognizing reality and not dragging this election on any longer than necessary,” said Sen. George Allen of Virginia, chairman of the national Republican Senatorial Committee.

Mr. Allen said that in any presidential election, it is important, for the sake of unity in the country, not to prolong the divisiveness that goes along with political campaigns.

“That’s true even more so now that we are in the midst of a war against terrorism that we not show indecisiveness or question the validity of the judgment of the American people after they have cast their ballots and chosen their leader,” he said.

By asking his party’s millions of loyalists to accept defeat, Mr. Kerry averted a repeat of the 2000 ballot recounting and legal challenges in Florida.

Ohio Republican Party Chairman Robert T. Bennett also praised Mr. Kerry, saying it is important to begin the healing process after an acrimonious campaign.

“Exit polls yesterday showed almost half the [Democrats] who cast ballots were voting against President Bush rather than for Senator Kerry — that is never good for the country,” Mr. Bennett said.

But Mr. Kerry also did “the right thing in not conceding Ohio to Bush [Tuesday] night,” the Ohio Republican chief said. “Kerry and his people took the time, digested Ohio election laws and came to the same conclusion that the Ohio secretary of state, the governor and both our U.S. senators had come to — that this victory for the president was beyond the margin of error, no matter how many provisional ballots might be outstanding.”

In 2000, Democrat Al Gore first conceded defeat on election night, then withdrew his concession to Mr. Bush. The nation then sweated out a 36-day recount dispute in Florida before the Supreme Court ruled in Mr. Bush’s favor.

Until Mr. Kerry phoned the president yesterday, many Democrats had been demanding that their candidate repeat the Gore campaign’s all-out recount effort. Enraged Democrats called radio talk-show hosts all morning, castigating Mr. Bush and his top aides for even suggesting that Mr. Kerry concede Ohio before the provisional ballots had been counted. But such a move might have meant weeks of counting and court challenges.

Ohio Republicans pointed out that Mr. Bush’s margin in the state was wide enough to rule out a reversal of the result by the provisional ballots. Those ballots will be counted in any case, but will not prevent acclamation of Mr. Bush’s re-election.

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