Bush pleads for unity as clear victory consolidates power
President Bush yesterday promised to reunite America as he declared victory in a bitterly-fought presidential election and laid claim to the popular mandate that eluded him four years ago.
"America has spoken and I'm humbled by the trust and the confidence of my fellow citizens," the president told supporters in Washington, who repeatedly interrupted his victory speech with raucous cheers.
The vice-president, Dick Cheney, declared the election "a broad nationwide victory" and pointed out George Bush had won the "greatest number of popular votes of any presidential candidate in history".
But the tone of Mr Bush's victory speech was more conciliatory. Addressing the 55 million Americans who voted for John Kerry, he said: "To make this nation stronger and better I will need your support, and I will work to earn it. I will do all I can do to deserve your trust."
The president made no promises to change course in his domestic policy to bridge the divide with his Democratic opponents. As for foreign policy, he vowed to pursue his project to help build democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq before bringing US troops home.
He also pledged: "With good allies by our side we will fight this war on terror with every resource in our power so our children can live in freedom and in peace."
His closest ally, Tony Blair, yesterday privately congratulated Mr Bush in a morning phone call, but made it clear soon afterwards that he would be seeking more White House effort in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"The need to revitalise the Middle East peace process is the single most pressing political challenge in our world today," Mr Blair told reporters. The prime minister will travel to Washington shortly to discuss the both the Middle East and January's scheduled elections in Iraq.
The moment of victory was delayed until midday yesterday as the two sides battled over the vote count in the decisive state, Ohio. But the challenger was forced to concede defeat in a short telephone call to the White House when it became clear Mr Bush's lead in the state was insurmountable.
"We had a good conversation, and we talked about the danger of division in our country and the need - the desperate need - for unity, for finding the common ground, coming together," Senator Kerry said in his concession speech a few hours later in Boston.
After the 2000 election, its controversial recount and the intervention of the Supreme Court, most Democrats believed they had been robbed of the presidency. Yesterday Mr Kerry acknowledged that he had been beaten, and that even if all the yet uncounted ballots in Ohio were taken into consideration, they would not reverse the final outcome - a majority for the president in the electoral college which ultimately determines who inhabits the White House.
Four years ago Mr Bush scrambled into the White House by virtue of the quirks of the US electoral system, despite losing the popular vote by half a million. By contrast, in the early hours of yesterday morning, he became the first president to be elected by a clear popular majority since his father in 1988, defeating Senator Kerry by more than three million votes.
The Republican party also increased its Senate majority from two votes to 10. Tom Daschle, who led the opposition to Mr Bush on Capitol Hill for the past four years, lost his seat in a humiliating defeat in his home state, South Dakota.
The president's control of Congress will also allow him to put his stamp on the third arm of the federal government, the supreme court, the most powerful weapon in America's continuing cultural war.
The opportunity to fill three or four vacancies in the court over the next four years could create a solid conservative majority which could lead to a ban on abortion, among other potentially dramatic changes.
Republican conservatives also extended their already powerful hold on the House of Representatives, smoothing the way for the president's second-term legislative agenda.
More broadly, his popular mandate allows the president to claim his radical agenda at home and abroad represents America with a legitimacy it did not have before.
But Mr Bush presides over a country deeply divided over the Iraq war and cultural issues such as abortion, gay mar riage, and stem cell research. The victory strengthens President Bush's hand abroad, now it is clear leaders sceptical of his assertive style and aggressive foreign policy have no alternative but to deal with him.
The French president, Jacques Chirac, spoke of "our joint fight against terrorism". Similarly, the German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, sought common ground.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uselections2004/story/0,13918,1342908,00.html?=rss -- Julian Borger in Washington Thursday November 4, 2004 The Guardian