President Bush has won a second term from a divided nation.
After a long, tense night of vote counting, Democratic candidate John Kerry called Bush Wednesday to concede Ohio and the presidency. Kerry ended his quest, concluding one of the most expensive and bitterly contested races on record, with a call to the president shortly after 11 a.m. EST, according to two officials familiar with the conversation.
"Congratulations, Mr. President," Kerry said in the conversation described by sources as lasting less than five minutes. The Democratic source said Bush called Kerry a worthy, tough, and honorable opponent. Kerry told Bush the country is too divided, the source said, and Bush agreed. "We really have to do something about it," Kerry said, according to the Democratic official.
Kerry placed his call after weighing unattractive options overnight. With Bush holding fast to a six-figure lead in make-or-break Ohio, Kerry could give up or trigger a struggle that would have stirred memories of the bitter recount in Florida that propelled Bush to the White House in 2000. Kerry's call was the last bit of drama in a campaign full of it. His phone call came hours after White House chief of staff Andy Card declared Bush the winner, and White House aides said the president was giving Kerry time to consider his next step.
One senior Democrat familiar with the discussions in Boston said Kerry's running mate, North Carolina senator John Edwards, was suggesting that he shouldn't concede. The official said Edwards, a trial lawyer, wanted to make sure all options were explored and that Democrats pursued them as thoroughly as Republicans would if the positions were reversed. Advisers said the campaign just wanted one last look for uncounted ballots that might close the 136,000-vote advantage Bush held in Ohio.
An Associated Press survey of Ohio's 88 counties found there were about 150,000 uncounted provisional ballots and an unspecified number of absentee votes still to be counted. Ohio aside, New Mexico and Iowa remained too close to call before noon Wednesday. But those two states were for the record; Ohio alone had the electoral votes to swing the election to the man in the White House or his Democratic challenger. Bush remained at the White House, while a GOP legal and political team was dispatched overnight to Ohio in case Kerry made a fight of it.