WASHINGTON (Reuters)–President Bush won re-election to a second four-year term over Democratic Sen. John Kerry on Wednesday and promised deeply divided Americans he would earn their support and trust.
"A new term is a new opportunity to reach out to the whole nation," he said in a victory speech in Washington. "When we come together and work together–there is no limit to the greatness of America."
Speaking directly to supporters of Kerry–Bush said: "I will need your support–and I will work to earn it. I will do all I can to deserve your trust."
Bush clinched victory in a bitter eight-month struggle for the White House when Kerry ended the suspense of a vote-counting battle in the decisive state of Ohio and conceded the election. Kerry called Bush and later told supporters in Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall that "I hope we can begin the healing."
In a dispute that evoked memories of the prolonged election recount in Florida in 2000–delays in counting provisional and absentee ballots in Ohio had postponed the final outcome of the presidential election for hours.
Ohio’s 20 electoral votes were the final hurdle to Bush capturing an Electoral College majority of 270 votes after a divisive campaign that focused on the war in Iraq–the battle against global terrorism and the economy.
"I would not give up this fight if there was a chance we could prevail," an emotional Kerry said in Boston. "There won’t be enough outstanding votes for us to be able to win Ohio–and therefore we cannot win this election."
Bush begins his second term with the daunting challenges of a worsening insurgency in Iraq–the aftermath of his decision to invade the country in 2003–and soaring federal budget deficits.
Republicans also celebrated expanded majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate in results likely to build the president’s mandate and ease Bush’s conservative agenda in Congress.
Bush captured a majority of the popular vote–unlike the disputed 2000 election against Democrat Al Gore. With 99 percent of precincts reporting–Bush had 51 percent of votes against Kerry’s 48 percent.
Kerry called Bush after meeting with running mate John Edwards and Sen. Edward Kennedy–his colleague from Massachusetts in the US Senate.
"Sen. Kerry waged a spirited campaign and he and his supporters can be proud of their efforts," Bush said.
"DESPERATE NEED FOR UNITY"
Kerry said he congratulated Bush and they discussed the country’s divisions and "the desperate need for unity–for finding the common ground–coming together. Today I hope that we can begin the healing."
The dispute over uncounted ballots in Ohio had thrown the presidential result into uncertainty–as Kerry vowed he would not concede until all the outstanding provisional and absentee ballots had been counted while Bush claimed victory.
White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card made a predawn appearance before Bush supporters to say Bush had a "statistically insurmountable" lead in Ohio and had won a majority of the popular vote.
Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell had estimated as many as 175,000 provisional ballots could be cast–and counties reported as of Wednesday morning that 135,149 had been issued.
Republicans will hold at least 54 of the 100 Senate seats–three more than they now have–and widen their slim majority of the 435-member House in the new 109th Congress–set to convene on Jan. 3.
That will make it easier for Bush to push his conservative agenda through Congress–potentially making his tax cuts permanent and appointing more federal judges including possibly some US Supreme Court justices.
"With a bigger majority–we can do even more exciting things," said House Majority leader Tom DeLay–a Republican from Texas.
Stocks soared on news of the win from Bush–with shares of major US drug and defense companies rising on the expectation those industries would do well under Bush.
Allies like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi saw Bush’s victory as bolstering the US-declared "war on terror." But some disenchanted Europeans urged Bush to heal transatlantic rifts.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair–Bush’s biggest ally in the war in Iraq–said in London the re-election of Bush came at a critical time when the world must unite to fight terrorism and Europe must rebuild its relationship with Bush.
"We must be relentless in our war against terrorism," Blair said. "We should work with President Bush on this agenda."
Long voter lines were reported across the United States on Tuesday and few major voting glitches were recorded in the final act of the long campaign.
With 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House–Bush had captured 29 states with 274 electoral votes. Kerry won 19 states and the District of Columbia and 252 votes. Bush held a lead of 3.5 million votes over Kerry nationwide with 99 percent of the precincts reporting.
Still undecided were Iowa and New Mexico–but only Ohio could make either candidate a winner.