WASHINGTON – President Bush claimed a re-election mandateWednesday after a record 59 million U.S. voters chose him overDemocrat John Kerry and voted to expand Republican control ofCongress, as well. He pledged to pursue his agenda on taxes andIraq while seeking “the broad support of all Americans.”
Kerry conceded defeat in make-or-break Ohio rather than launch alegal fight reminiscent of the contentious Florida recount of fouryears ago. “I hope that we can begin the healing,” theMassachusetts senator said.
Claiming a second term denied his father, George H.W. Bush, thepresident struck a conciliatory tone, too. “A new term is a newopportunity to reach out to the whole nation,” he said, speakingdirectly to Kerry’s supporters.
“To make this nation stronger and better, I will need yoursupport and I will work to earn it,” he said. “I will do all I cando to deserve your trust.”
It was a warm-and-fuzzy close to one of the longest, mostnegative presidential races in a generation.
Bush didn’t use the word mandate, but Vice President Dick Cheneydid, and the president’s intention was clear as he ticked off afamiliar list of second-term goals: overhaul the tax code andSocial Security at home while waging war in Iraq and elsewhere tostem terror.
Bush stands to reshape the federal judiciary, starting with anaging Supreme Court that voted 5-4 to award him Florida four yearsago. In all branches of government, the GOP now holds a solid, ifnot permanent, ruling majority.
Bush’s vote totals were the biggest ever and his slice of thevote, 51 percent, made him the first president to claim a majoritysince 1988 when his father won 53 percent against Democrat MichaelDukakis.
Like Dukakis, Kerry is a Massachusetts politician who waslabeled a liberal by a Bush. This president also called Kerry aflip-flopping opportunist who would fight feebly againstterror.
None of that rancor was evident Wednesday, when Kerry calledBush to concede the race. He told Bush the country needed to beunited, and Bush agreed. But the numbers suggest the country isdeeply split.
Bush’s victory ensures Republican dominance of virtually everyquarter of the U.S. political system for years to come – the WhiteHouse, Congress and the federal judiciary. Democrats poured overelection results and sadly determined that the GOP base was bigger,more rural, suburban and Hispanic than they had ever imagined.
They looked within their own party and found plenty of Democratsto blame – Kerry, his running mate John Edwards, their layers ofconsultants and legions of former Bill Clinton aides. The jockeyingbegan in earnest for the 2008 race, with Edwards signaling hisambitions by pressing Kerry to wage a legal fight for Ohio.Democrats love to fight the GOP, particularly those Democrats whovote in primaries and caucuses.
“You can be disappointed, but you cannot walk away,” Edwardstold supporters at Kerry’s concession. “This fight has justbegun.”
Supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, herself a potentialcandidate in 2008, accused Edwards of posturing.
Kerry himself showed no signs of exiting the political arena.”I’ll never stop fighting for you,” he told backers.
Still, it was a grim day for Democrats.
Party strategists had long hoped to supplant their politicallosses in the Midwest and South with growth in the Hispanic-richwestern states, but those plans were put in doubt Tuesday night.Exit polls suggested that Bush had increased his minority share ofthe Hispanic vote since 2000.
One-third of Hispanics said they were born-again Christians andnearly 20 percent listed moral values as their top issue,suggesting they have more in common with Republicans thanDemocrats.
The election also vindicated Bush’s strategy of governing fromthe right while targeting his voters with a volunteer-drivenorganization run through his campaign headquarters.
Americans Coming Together, the Media Fund and other groups spentmore than $200 million to defeat Bush.
Bush saw a surge in rural and evangelical voters, according tostrategists on both sides. The rural vote, once reliablyDemocratic, swelled in size and supported Bush over Kerry.
In Ohio, exit polls suggested the rural vote increased from 15percent of the electorate in 2000 to 25 percent on Tuesday. Ruralvoters backed Bush over Kerry, 60 percent to 40.
In Ohio and Florida, the two most important states ElectionNight, Democrats said they met their turnout targets only to seeBush’s forces trounce them. They said state ballot measures to bangay marriage may have driven GOP voters to the polls.
The most stinging defeat was in Ohio, which may no longer beconsidered a swing state. With 232,000 jobs lost under Bush andstate voters uneasy about Iraq, it was as ripe as it will ever befor Democrats, strategists said.
Ohio’s 20 electoral votes gave Bush 279 in the Associated Presscount, nine more than the 270 needed for victory. Kerry had 252electoral votes, with Iowa’s seven unsettled.
Bush beat Kerry by more than 3 million votes.