Standing amid wildly cheering supporters in Washington's cavernous Ronald Reagan Building, a newly re-elected President George W. Bush claimed an electoral mandate, briefly outlined his plans for the next four years, and asked for support from Americans who supported Senator John Kerry in the 2004 election.
"To make this nation stronger and better I will need your support, and I will work to earn it. I will do all I can do to deserve your trust. A new term is a new opportunity to reach out to the whole nation. We have one country, one Constitution, and one future that binds us," the president said.
In his call for national unity, the president echoed comments made earlier in the day by Sen. Kerry, who delivered his concession speech before tearful supporters in Boston's historic Fanueil Hall. "We are required now to work together for the good of our country ....without recrimination and anger," Kerry said.
Analysts noted that these mutual calls for reconciliation would be severely tested when the president submits his new budget or nominates a new Supreme Court Justice.
Of that call, which lasted about five minutes, Kerry told a packed Fanueil Hall in Boston, "I spoke to President Bush and I offered him and Laura our congratulations on their victory. We had a good conversation, and 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. Today I hope that we can begin the healing."
In his speech to supporters, Mr. Bush began by describing the same phone call. "We had a really good phone call. He was very gracious," the president said of Kerry.
Despite the gracious tone of the comments on both sides, the Bush-Cheney team made it clear that they considered their advantage in the popular vote, as well as gains in their majorities in both the Senate and House of Representatives, to be a mandate from the American people.
As of Wednesday afternoon, data from the Associated Press showed Bush capturing 29 states with 274 electoral votes. Kerry won 19 states and the District of Columbia and 252 votes. Bush held a lead of 3.5 million votes nationwide with 99 percent of precincts reporting.
In introducing the president, Vice President Dick Cheney said that in response to Bush's campaign, "the nation responded by giving him a mandate." Cheney added that, "if ever a man met his moment as leader of this country, that man is George W. Bush."
The mandate theme was echoed in comments by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas). "With a bigger majority, we can do even more exciting things," the Reuters news agency quoted Mr. DeLay as saying.
The president sketched his goals for his second term in shorthand. "Because we have done the hard work, we are entering a season of hope. We'll continue our economic progress. We'll reform our outdated tax code. We'll strengthen the Social Security for the next generation. We'll make public schools all they can be. And we will uphold our deepest values of family and faith."
The president then turned his attention to international issues. "We will help the emerging democracies of Iraq and Afghanistan so they can grow in strength and defend their freedom. And then our servicemen and women will come home with the honor they have earned."
Bush then appealed for support from those who voted for Kerry. "Reaching these goals will require the broad support of Americans... And when we come together and work together, there is no limit to the greatness of America," he said.
Kerry left the race after determining there was no way for him to win Ohio's crucial 20 electoral votes. "I would not give up this fight if there was a chance we would prevail. It is now clear that even if we tally all the provisional ballots...there won't be enough outstanding votes for us to win Ohio."
The president had opened a 136,000-vote lead in the key battleground state of Ohio.
Both candidates won states they were expected to capture. With only New Mexico and Iowa final results still to come, swaths of Republican red and patches of Democratic blue on the US electoral map painted a picture nearly identical to 2000 election results. Neither man had been able to win a state taken by the other party four years ago - except New Hampshire, which Kerry claimed.
So Bush faces the daunting task of governing a nation that appears to be as politically polarized as it was four years ago.
But at the same time, he has the opportunity to set the nation's agenda for the next four years. And the recent serious illness of William Rehnquist, Chief Justice of the United States, opens the likelihood that the president will be able to name at least one, and perhaps several, Supreme Court justices, thus affecting the political life of the US for years to come.
The campaign was fought over the issues of Iraq, terrorism, and the economy. Bush was seeking to avoid becoming the first war-time president to be defeated on election day - and to avoid the one-term status of his father, former President George H. W. Bush.
The results in Ohio were crucial to achieving that goal. Without Ohio, Kerry had no path to the White House, especially since Bush won the vote-rich state of Florida. Both NBC and Fox projected that Bush would carry Ohio late Tuesday evening, but other major media outlets refrained from calling a winner during the long election evening. The White House said it was "convinced" of victory in a statement read early Wednesday morning by White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card.
As Tuesday evening gave way to Wednesday morning, the Kerry campaign refused to concede the crucial state of Ohio. Kerry-Edwards campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill released a statement saying, "The vote count in Ohio has not been completed. There are more than 250,000 remaining votes to be counted. We believe when they are, John Kerry will win Ohio."
Hours later, Democratic vice-presidential candidate John Edwards ceded nothing when he addressed a crowd of Kerry supporters in Boston. "We will fight for every vote," he said. "We've waited four years for this victory. We can wait one more night."
But by early Wednesday morning, the Bush team was laying claim to Ohio's 20 electoral votes, despite Kerry's objections.
Voter enthusiasm in Ohio was matched nationwide. The Associated Press said 120 million Americans had voted - just under 60 percent of eligible voters. That was the highest turnout since 1968 when 60.8 percent of those eligible cast a vote.
In the 2000 election, some 105.4 million Americas voted - 51.2 percent of voting-age Americans.
Bush clearly has won the popular vote, becoming the first president since his father in 1988 to capture more than 50 percent of votes cast. According to the Associated Press, the tally for Bush is 59,017,382, or 51 percent. Kerry took 48 percent of the vote: 55,435,808.
Republicans strengthened their control over Congress. Republicans took Senate seats previously held by Democrats in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. They will hold 54 of the 100 seats in the Senate that convenes Jan. 3. Democrats claimed a former GOP seat in Illinois, where rising Democratic star Barack Obama handily defeated conservative challenger Alan Keyes.
Republicans also earned a major symbolic victory in the Senate. The Democratic leader in the Senate, Tom Daschle, was defeated in a very tight race by former Rep. John Thune.
The current makeup of the Senate is 51 Republicans, 48 Democrats, and 1 Independent who votes with the Democrats. This year 34 Senate seats were up for election, of which 19 were held by Democrats, and 15 by Republicans.
Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, Republicans widened their slim majority. Control of the House requires 218 seats.
According to the authoritative Cook Political Report, only 36 seats were competitive in this election.
Ralph Nader appears to have played a much smaller role in the 2004 election than he did in 2000. Mr. Nader was drawing about 0.5 percent of the vote in Florida versus about 2 percent in 2000.
Nader explained this year's results by saying to Fox News Channel, "The system is rigged against competition. If nature operated this way, seeds wouldn't be allowed to sprout." Nader was on the ballot in 34 states this year, including some battleground states where his presence might tip the balance if the races in those states is close.