Republicans are declaring that President Bush has won the key battleground state of Ohio and his bid for re-election, but there are no signs that the Kerry campaign is ready to concede defeat.
Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry is meeting with key advisers today and assessing his chances for victory in the Buckeye State and in the election. Early this morning, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card declared to Bush supporters that the president had won Ohio's 20 electoral votes, clinching the victory.
Kerry's campaign is expected to make a statement sometime today. Republican Party Chairman Marc Racicot said Bush will speak after giving the Massachusetts senator "the opportunity to look at the situation in the cold hard light of day."
ABC News has not yet projected a winner in Ohio. According to ABC News projections, Bush has 254 electoral votes and Kerry has 242 — leaving both candidates short of the 270 needed to win the presidency. ABC News also has not projected a winner in Wisconsin (10 electoral votes), Iowa (7 electoral votes) or New Mexico (5 electoral votes).
Bush held a formidable lead in Ohio — a 136,221-vote advantage just before 6 a.m. ET. But still at issue were "provisional ballots," which are intended to help voters who find they are not listed on the rolls or whose qualifications to vote are in question. Such ballots are not counted until after the election — in Ohio, 10 days afterward. So far, about 147,570 provisional ballots have been cast in the state, according to an ABC News analysis.
ABC News declined to project a Bush victory in Ohio because a Kerry comeback — however unlikely — remained numerically possible. Elections experts said it would be virtually impossible for Kerry to catch Bush in Ohio via the provisional ballots.
"The only argument I think the Kerry people can make is that this provides a justification for waiting and then maybe [taking] a hard look at absentee ballots, the possibility of a recount," said Alan Dershowitz, an ABC News consultant and a lawyer who represented Gore in the contested presidential election of 2000.
"Something else may come in and change the numbers," he added. "But if the numbers stay this way … I'm sorry: The provisional ballots alone, there's no realistic possibility they can change the outcome of this election."
But Card had no such qualms projecting a winner and predicted Bush victories in Ohio, Iowa, New Mexico and nationwide.
"We are convinced that President Bush has won re-election with at least 286 electoral college votes," Card told supporters at the Ronald Reagan Center in Washington around 5:45 a.m. ET today.
Bush also won several million more votes nationwide than did Kerry — unlike 2000, when Bush won the presidency even though more Americans voted for then-Vice President Al Gore.
Despite the long odds, the Democrats wouldn't concede early this morning.
"It's been a long night, but we've waited four years for this victory; we can wait one more night," vice presidential candidate John Edwards told supporters assembled in Copley Square in Boston at 2:30 a.m. ET.
"John Kerry and I have made a promise to the American people that in this election, every vote would count and every vote would be counted," Edwards added. "Tonight, we are keeping our word and we will fight for every vote. You deserve no less."
Elsewhere, Bush made a solid showing in the South — including Florida, the site of so much controversy in 2000 — and Kerry won electoral vote-rich California and the key swing state of Pennsylvania.
Based on exit polls and unofficial vote totals, ABC News projects Bush will win Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Texas, Louisiana, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Arkansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Idaho, Arizona, Colorado, Alaska, Nevada and Florida.
Kerry is projected to win Vermont, Illinois, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Rhode Island, California, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Maine, Washington, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Michigan and the District of Columbia.
ABC News projections also showed voters expanded the Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, though the extent of the increases initially was clouded by a handful of races too close to call. Among the Democratic defeats, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle lost his South Dakota seat to former Rep. John Thune, marking the first time in 52 years that a party leader was defeated.
In all, 34 Senate seats, 11 gubernatorial seats and all 435 House seats went before voters, who also approved measures in 11 states banning same-sex marriage.