Nov. 3, 2004 — Sen. John Kerry called for bipartisan unity as he publicly conceded the presidential election, making President Bush the first Republican re-elected to the White House since the late Ronald Reagan.
With vice presidential running mate, John Edwards, at his side and wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, and children in the audience, Kerry said he wanted to work with Bush to bridge the differences in the nation — which were reflected in their hard-fought, often bitter campaigns.
"Earlier today, I spoke with President Bush and I offered him and Laura congratulations," a slightly hoarse Kerry told supporters. "We had a good conversation, and we talked about the danger of division in our country and the need — the desperate need — for finding common ground in America. Today I hope we can begin the healing.' "
The Democrat admitted defeat after a victory in the battleground state of Ohio appeared hopelessly out of reach. Kerry needed Ohio's 20 electoral votes to remain competitive.
"In America, it is vital that every vote count and be counted," Kerry said. "But an election should be decided by voters, not by a protracted legal fight. … 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. We came to the conclusion that we cannot win this election."
Edwards urged their supporters not to be too disheartened by the loss and continue fighting for their causes.
"You can be disappointed, but you cannot walk away," Edwards said. "This fight has just begun. … This campaign may end today, but the battle rages on."
Bush is expected to give a victory speech to the nation at 3 p.m. ET.
Kerry called the president this morning to congratulate him. An aide described the conversation as "courteous." Bush called Kerry an "admirable, worthy opponent" who ran a tough campaign.
With his re-election, Bush has achieved a feat his father, George H.W. Bush, did not accomplish.
His victory was convincing, as he got several million more votes nationwide than did Kerry and won the popular vote. In 2000, some critics perceived his victory illegitimate because he won the presidency even though more Americans voted for then-Vice President Al Gore.
Bush's victory caps a successful Republican showing at the polls.
ABC News projections 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. Projections showed Republicans would hold at least 53 of the 100 Senate seats, two more than they now have, and widen their slim majority in the 435-member House.
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
ABC News has not yet projected a winner 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.
Bush held a formidable lead in Ohio — a 136,221-vote advantage. 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.