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To chants of “four more years” by jubilant supporters at the Ronald Reagan building in Washington this afternoon, President Bush accepted his re-election, declaring “America has spoken.”

After considering a challenge to the result in Ohio, Sen. John Kerry conceded the race, first in a telephone call and then in an emotional speech at 2 p.m. at historic Fanueil Hall in Boston.

“I’m sorry we got here a little bit late, a little bit short,” Kerry said after remarks by his vice presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards.

In his speech one hour later, Bush began with a description of Kerry’s personal concession.

“We had a really good phone call, he was very gracious,” Bush said.

“Senator Kerry waged a spirited campaign, and he and his supporters can be proud of their efforts,” the president declared, adding his best wishes to the Massachusetts Democrat and his wife, Teresa, and their family.

“In four historic years,” the president said, “America has been given great tasks and faced them with strength and courage,” referring to revival of the economy and “a new kind of war” against terrorism.

“The military has brought justice to the enemy and honor to America,” he said to cheers. “Our nation has defended itself and served the freedom of all mankind. I’m proud to lead such an amazing country, and I’m proud to lead it forward.”

Because “we have done the hard work, we are entering a season of hope,” he said, vowing to continue pursuit of issues such as reforming the tax code, social security and education. He also promised to continue “upholding our deepest values of family and faith” and “help emerging democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq so they can grow in strength.”

“Then our service men and women will come home with the honor they have earned,” he said.

The reference to “family and faith” underscored the 11 out of 11 states that passed an amendment yesterday against same-sex marriage, defining wedlock as only between one man and one woman.

In an effort to reach out to Kerry voters, the president said, “”America has spoken, and I’m humbled by the trust and confidence of my fellow citizens, and with that trust comes a duty to serve all Americans. And I will do my best to fulfill that duty as president.”

Among his offers of personal thanks, Bush expressed appreciation for “the architect,” Karl Rove, his chief strategist.

Vice President Cheney introduced the president as a “wise, firm and fearless” leader whose presidency is “consequential.”

“This was an historic election, and one again I have delivered the state of Wyoming to the Bush-Cheney ticket,” he deadpanned to laughter and cheers.

Cheney referred to the record voter turnout and described the election as a “broad victory.”

To the delight of supporters, he noted Bush won more votes than any candidate in history.

‘Danger of division’

Meanwhile, in Boston, Kerry also described the telephone conversation with Bush.

“We talked about the danger of division in our country and the desperate need for unity, for common ground, coming together,” the senator said. “Today I hope that we can begin the healing.”

Explaining his decision to not contest the Ohio result, Kerry said that when all of the provisional ballots are counted, there still will not be enough votes to win.

“In America it is vital that every vote count and that every vote be counted.,” Kerry said. “But the outcome should be decided by voters, not a protracted legal process.”

Recalling nearly two years of campaigning that began at Fanueil Hall, Kerry thanked his supporters across the nation.

“I wish I could wrap each and every one of you in my arms and embrace you individually,” he said. “I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Calling it the “most important election of our lifetime,” Edwards led off with a reference to the delayed outcome, the second consecutive presidential race in which a winner was not officially declared on voting day.

“Well, it was a long night and a long morning,” he said. “And even though the outcome won’t change, I want you to know that we will fight for every vote. … We will honor everyone who stood in line to change this country.”

He vowed to not abandon the campaign’s key issues, including job creation and making health insurance available to everyone.

“You can be disappointed but you cannot walk away,” he said. “This fight has just begun.”

Edwards — who did not contest his North Carolina Senate seat, won yesterday by a Republican — called Kerry “a great American.”

Long night

Earlier this morning, White House Chief of Staff Andy Card spoke to supporters at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington.

“I want to thank all of you for staying up so late with us and good morning,” Card said at 5:45 a.m. Eastern. “We are convinced that President Bush has won re-election with at least 286 Electoral College votes.”

Kerry rested his hopes on a challenge of the vote in Ohio, where Bush garnered 136,483 votes, according to the secretary of state’s website.

The Bush campaign declared victory in the Buckeye State and also counted Iowa, Nevada and New Mexico in its column, although those states had not made their results official.

Nevada’s five electoral votes, however, now have been called for Bush, giving the president a total of 274, three more than required to win.

“This all adds up to a convincing victory,” Card said. “President Bush decided to give Senator Kerry the respect of more time to reflect on the results of this election.”

The president won Florida comfortably yesterday, a state whose results were contested for weeks in the last election cycle, ending in a Supreme Court ruling to call a halt to further recounts.

Networks scolded

Although television networks said last night they felt comfortable calling Ohio for Bush, Kerry campaign officials scolded them for jumping the gun, emphasizing the provisional ballots yet to be counted push the outstanding votes well beyond the current margin.

Provisional votes are ballots cast by people who were not on voter rolls or had other problems with voting in a conventional manner.

“The vote count in Ohio has not been completed. There are more than 250,000 remaining votes to be counted. We believe when they are, John Kerry will win Ohio,” Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill said in a statement.

Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell said about 140,000 to 150,000 provisional ballots were cast this year. In 2000, 90 percent of them were counted.

Edwards made an appearance before more than a thousand campaign backers assembled for a victory celebration at Copley Square in Boston at 2:30 a.m. Eastern.

The tired looking, but upbeat vice presidential candidate thanked supporters in a brief address and pledged a fight to the finish.

“It’s been a long night but we’ve waited four years for this victory; we can wait one more night,” he said amid cheers. “John Kerry and I made a promise to the American people that in this election every vote would count and every vote would be counted. Tonight we are keeping our word and we will fight for every vote. You deserve no less.”

Campaign attorneys were poised for challenges to the provisional ballots. Kerry spokeswoman Jen Palmieri earlier told Fox News the campaign had 3,200 lawyers and paralegals on standby in Ohio.

Analysts said the threat of challenges to every provisional ballot posed the specter of delaying the outcome of the presidential race for more than a week.

Bush was leading in the popular vote nationwide by a 51 to 48 percent margin.

GOP pads control of Congress

The Republicans added icing to the Election Day cake by padding their control of the House of Representative and the U.S. Senate.

Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said he expects the GOP to have 55 seats in the Senate “as a result of the president’s strong push across the country.”

The results, he said, indicate the country is not as divided as it’s made out to be.

“It looks to me a very decisive win today,” he said.

Republicans were assured of 54 Senate seats after winning in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana and South Dakota, where minority leader Tom Daschle was ousted.

In Florida, Democratic challenger Betty Castor conceded this morning to Republican Mel Martinez. The race in Alaska still is contested.

Bush was declared the winner in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Kerry was declared the winner in California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin and Washington.

See electoral vote breakdown state by state.

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