After many hours of hand-wringing over Ohio's vote count, the 2004 presidential election finally came to a photo finish Wednesday. John Kerry conceded the election, guaranteeing George W. Bush a second term.
The hard-fought and expensive campaign was helpful in bringing up many questions about President Bush's first term. But while the media were focused mainly on the Iraq war and the economy, exit polls of real voters indicated that Mr. Bush's victory rested largely on a large portion of Americans who back him, and the Republican Party in general, on moral values and in waging a war on terrorists. (The GOP made modest gains in its control of the Senate and House.)
These Bush voters found the president to be a stronger leader, one with a clear stand on the issues. They were voting as much on character qualities as on national issues of the day, such as the Bush tax cuts.
In addition, in 11 of the states, many Bush supporters were driven to the polls by referendums about defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. In fact, a hefty portion of Bush's supporters came from a range of regular churchgoers.
In other words, Bush's strategy to play to his political "base" was a success. Or at least a success in winning again. Now, in his second term, Bush will need to broaden his appeal by going beyond that base to bring the country together.
While he won some 3.5 million more votes than Kerry, preventing another Florida-type legal battle and making up for losing the popular vote in 2000, the margin was small enough that Bush cannot ignore the 48 percent of Americans who voted for Kerry.
His first term was not marked by the president reaching out to opponents and setting a bipartisan climate in Washington, as he had promised in 2000. And the way he conducted the Iraq war has increased political divisions.
Still, Bush's 2004 campaign did lay out fresh ideas that Congress needs to consider seriously. And it's clear that a majority of Americans like the steadfastness, if not always the direction, of Bush's strategy on terrorism.
Democrats, meanwhile, should not split apart in internal recriminations, but learn from any campaign mistakes or policy miscues. One lesson is that constant congressional obstructionism can backfire at the polls.
Bitter campaign partisanship can end for now. Bush can help that by governing with equanimity.