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Washington, D.C. — (AP) - President Bush won four more years in the White House on Wednesday, pocketing a public concession from Democrat John Kerry that closed out a loud and long campaign fought over the war on terror and the economy.
"We cannot win this election," the Massachusetts senator said in an emotional campaign farewell after deciding not to contest Bush's lead in make-or-break Ohio.
In an appearance in Faneuil Hall in Boston, where he launched his quest for the White House more than a year ago, Kerry said he had telephoned Bush to congratulate him on his victory.
"We talked about the danger of division in our country and the need - the desperate need - for unity, for finding common ground and coming together," Kerry said. "Today, I hope we can begin the healing," he said.
"I'm sorry that we got here a little bit late and a little bit short," said a hoarse and stoic Kerry, noting that he had called Bush earlier at the White House and said they had a "good conversation."
"In America, it is vital that every vote count .. but the outcome should be decided by voters, not a protracted legal fight," Kerry said. "I would not give up this fight if there was a chance that we would prevail."
We talked about the danger of division in our country and the need - the desperate need - for unity, for finding common ground and coming together. Today, I hope we can begin the healing.
But Kerry also said that "there won't be enough outstanding votes for us to win Ohio, and therefore we cannot win this election."
"In this journey, you have given me the honor and the gift of learning from you," the senator said.
"I'm going to fight on for the people and the principles that I've stood for," said Kerry, who returns to the Senate to complete his term. Friends and admirers who joined him, running mate John Edwards and their families applauded lovingly during his 15-minute speech at this city's historic Faneuil Hall.
Preceding Kerry, Edwards said, "well, it was a long night and a long morning. ... We will continue to fight for every vote. We know every vote matters in our America and we will honor each and every one of you. We didn't start fighting for you when this campaign began and we won't stop fighting for you when this campaign ends."
With their families aligned in the front row, Kerry and Bush appeared before A mammoth painting by George P. A. Healy. Measuring almost 27 feet in width, it depicts a famous 19th century exchange between Daniel Webster and South Carolina Senator Robert Hayne about the federal Constitution's jurisdiction over the states.
Inscribed on the frame are Webster's famous words: "Liberty and Union, Now and Forever."
They had gathered earlier at Kerry's Beacon Hill home. His two-year campaign for the White House ended abruptly with the loss of the make-or-break state of Ohio in a close election.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who campaigned heavily for Kerry over the past year, entered Kerry's house Wednesday morning with his wife, Victoria. Also spotted going inside were David Thorne, Kerry's longtime friend and former brother-in-law, stepson Andre Heinz, and brother Cameron Kerry.
Kerry called Bush shortly before 11 a.m. to concede defeat after his campaign determined Ohio was out of reach.
"Congratulations, Mr. President," Kerry said.
Bush arranged to make his victory speech in Washington after Kerry concluded his remarks.
The re-election triumph gave the president a new term to pursue the war in Iraq and a conservative, tax-cutting agenda - and probably the chance to name one or more justices to an aging Supreme Court.
He also will preside alongside expanded Republican majorities in Congress. The GOP gained four Senate seats and bolstered its majority in the House by at least two.
Ohio's 20 electoral votes gave Bush 274 in the Associated Press count, four more than the 270 needed for victory. Kerry had 252 electoral votes, with Iowa (7) and New Mexico (5) unsettled.
Bush was winning 51 percent of the popular vote to 48 percent for his rival. He led by more than 3 million ballots.
Officials in both camps described the telephone conversation between two campaign warriors.
A Democratic source said Bush called Kerry a worthy, tough and honorable opponent. Kerry told Bush the country was too divided, and Bush agreed, the source said.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush told Kerry, "I think you were an admirable, honorable opponent."
Yet Kerry's public remarks contained an element of challenge to the Republican president. "America is in need of unity and longing for a larger measure of compassion," he said. "I hope President Bush will advance those values in the coming years."
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. While Bush remains in the White House, he returns to the Senate, part of the shrunken Democratic minority.
He acted, 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 Sen. 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 the state'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 in a race for the White House framed by a worldwide war against terror and economic worries at home.
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, a GOP legal and political team dispatched overnight to Ohio in case Kerry made a fight of it.
Republicans already were celebrating election gains in Congress. They picked up four seats in the Senate, and they drove Democratic leader Tom Daschle from office.
That will be the state of play on Capitol Hill for the next two years, with the chance of a Supreme Court nomination fight looming along with legislative battles.
Republicans also re-enforced their majority in the House.
Glitches galore cropped up in overwhelmed polling places as Americans voted in high numbers, fired up by unprecedented registration drives, the excruciatingly close contest and the sense that these were unusually consequential times.
"The mood of the voter in this election is different than any election I've ever seen," said Sangamon County, Ill., clerk Joseph Aiello. "There's more passion. They seem to be very emotional. They're asking lots of questions, double-checking things."
The country exposed its rifts on matters of great import in Tuesday's voting. Exit polls found the electorate split down the middle or very close to it on whether the nation is moving in the right direction, on what to do in Iraq, on whom they trust with their security.
The electoral map Wednesday looked much like it did before; the question mark had moved and little else.
Bush built a solid foundation by hanging on to almost all the battleground states he got last time. Facing the cruel arithmetic of attrition, Kerry needed to do more than go one state better than Al Gore four years ago; redistricting since then had left those 2000 Democratic prizes 10 electoral votes short of the total needed to win the presidency.
Florida fell to Bush again, close but no argument about it.
Bush's relentless effort to wrest Pennsylvania from the Democratic column fell short. He had visited the state 44 times, more than any other. Kerry picked up New Hampshire in perhaps the election's only turnover.
In Ohio, Kerry won among young adults, but lost in every other age group. One-fourth of Ohio voters identified themselves as born-again Christians and they backed Bush by a 3-to-1 margin.
A sideline issue in the national presidential campaign, gay civil unions may have been a sleeper that hurt Kerry - who strongly supports that right - in Ohio and elsewhere. Ohioans expanded their law banning gay marriage, already considered the toughest in the country, with an even broader constitutional amendment against civil unions.
In all, voters in 11 states approved constitutional amendments limiting marriage to one man and one woman.
In Florida, Kerry again won only among voters under age 30. Six in 10 voters said Florida's economy was in good shape, and they voted heavily for Bush. Voters also gave the edge to Bush's handling of terrorism.
In Senate contests, Rep. John Thune's victory over Daschle represented the first defeat of a Senate party leader in a re-election race in more than a half century.
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)