- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 4, 2004

President Bush clinched a second term yesterday after Sen. John Kerry decided against forcing a dramatic political standoff, clearing the way for the Bush team to declare a mandate for four more years.

“America has spoken, and I’m humbled by the trust and the confidence of my fellow citizens,” the president told supporters at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington. “I’m proud to lead such an amazing country, and I am proud to lead it forward.”

Mr. Bush also issued an appeal to “every person who voted for my opponent.”

“To make this nation stronger and better, I will need your support, and I will work to earn it,” he said. “A new term is a new opportunity to reach out to the whole nation.”

The speech was delivered shortly after 3 p.m., one hour after Mr. Kerry publicly acknowledged the futility of legal challenges aimed at reversing his loss in the pivotal state of Ohio, where Mr. Bush bested him by 136,483 votes.

“In America, it is vital that every vote count, and that every vote be counted,” Mr. Kerry told supporters in Boston. “But the outcome should be decided by voters, not a protracted legal process.

“I would not give up this fight if there was a chance that we would prevail,” he added, after being introduced by his running mate, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.

Mr. Kerry came to this conclusion late yesterday morning and telephoned the president at 11:02 a.m. to convey his congratulations. Mr. Bush took the three-minute call in the Oval Office and praised his foe as “very gracious.”

“I think you were an admirable, worthy opponent,” Mr. Bush said, according to an aide. “You waged one tough campaign.”

He added: “I hope you are proud of the effort you put in. You should be.”

On the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, traders cheered news of the president’s victory. The Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped 101 points, and the Nasdaq closed above 2,000 for the first time in four months.

Mr. Bush’s win was welcomed by world leaders such as British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who telephoned Mr. Kerry with condolences, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who openly had pulled for the president.

Leaders of France and Germany, who opposed the president’s liberation of Iraq from the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, vowed to make the best of the situation by trying to work with Mr. Bush.

The decision by Mr. Kerry ended any possible challenge to Mr. Bush’s margin in Ohio. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Mr. Bush had 2,796,147 votes to Mr. Kerry’s 2,659,664 — a 51 percent to 49 percent victory.

Yesterday’s victory, although delayed, differed dramatically from the president’s razor-close electoral win in 2000, when he lost the popular vote to Vice President Al Gore by more than 500,000 ballots. This time around, Mr. Bush garnered about 3.6 million more votes than Mr. Kerry.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting nationwide, Mr. Bush garnered a record 59,017,382 votes, to Mr. Kerry’s 55,435,808 — a 51 percent to 48 percent margin.

“President George W. Bush won the greatest number of popular votes of any presidential candidate in history,” marveled Vice President Dick Cheney while introducing his boss. “President Bush ran forthrightly on a clear agenda for this nation’s future, and the nation responded by giving him a mandate.”

Mr. Bush plans to use that mandate to enact an ambitious second-term agenda that includes an energy bill and the partial privatization of Social Security for younger workers. He also views his victory as validation of his aggressive prosecution of the war on terror.

“Because we have done the hard work, we are entering a season of hope,” he said. “We’ll help the emerging democracies of Iraq and Afghanistan, so they can grow in strength and defend their freedom.”

The president’s victory speech ended hours of political deadlock that began late on election night, when both sides seemed within reach of garnering the 270 electoral votes necessary for victory.

When the pivotal state of Ohio broke for the president, Mr. Kerry pinned his hopes on the provisional ballots that might somehow eradicate Mr. Bush’s advantage.

“We can wait another night,” a defiant Mr. Edwards told supporters early yesterday.

But as dawn broke and the morning wore on, it became obvious that Mr. Bush’s six-digit lead in Ohio could not be surmounted, even if virtually all the provisional ballots were accepted as legitimate and went to Mr. Kerry. Provisional ballots are filled out by voters whose legitimacy has been called into question, with the understanding that they will be counted 11 days after the election if no clear winner emerges.

By acknowledging the mathematical impossibility of his predicament, Mr. Kerry spared the nation a repeat of the postelection recount wars that raged through Florida for 36 days in 2000.

“We worked hard and we fought hard, and I wish that things had turned out a little differently,” Mr. Kerry said in Boston. “I’m sorry that we got here a little bit late and a little bit short.”

Ohio election officials said yesterday that they will start determining the legitimacy of the more than 150,000 provisional ballots cast in their state, despite Mr. Kerry’s concession.

The process of verifying residence and age and citizenship requirements will take 10 days

“The pressure is off in the eyes of the media,” Jeff La Rue, spokesman for the Franklin County Board of Elections, told reporters. “The pressure to count every vote and validate every vote that is a valid vote — that pressure is never off.”

Mr. Bush initially had considered declaring victory before sunrise yesterday, even if Mr. Kerry refused to concede defeat. But he decided to give his opponent more time to accept defeat.

When the time finally came for concession, Mr. Edwards introduced Mr. Kerry with remarks tinged with disappointment and a trace of defiance. Some regarded his speech as the beginning of a new bid for the White House in 2008.

“In this campaign, we worked hard, and we hoped that the results would be different,” the North Carolina Democrat said. “You can be disappointed, but you cannot walk away.

“This fight has just begun,” he added. “Together we will carry on, and we will be with you every step of the way.”

Although Mr. Edwards gave up his Senate seat in his bid for the White House, Mr. Kerry remains in the Senate with a public profile that has been raised dramatically. Still, there was no talk of a second Kerry bid for the presidency.

“Don’t lose faith,” he told his supporters. “What you did made a difference.

“I promise you,” he added. “The time will come, the election will come, when your work and your ballots will change the world. And it’s worth fighting for.”

Mr. Bush was bracing for a variety of fights in his second term, beginning with his next budget proposal to Congress and continuing through several expected appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court. With Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist suffering from cancer, the president was expected to face a bruising battle over his replacement, especially if the nominee is pro-life.

But the president’s prospects for success were helped by his coattails in the Senate, where Republicans increased their control from 51 seats to 55.

But there was no talk of pitched battles from the president, who instead singled out his fellow Texans for special thanks at the close of the campaign.

“On the open plains of Texas, I first learned the character of our country: sturdy and honest, and as hopeful as the break of day,” said Mr. Bush, who was joined onstage by his family.

“I will always be grateful to the good people of my state,” he concluded. “And whatever the road that lies ahead, that road will take me home.”

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