John Edwards, Kerry's vice-presidential running mate, spoke to cheering supporters in the northeastern city of Boston. "It has been a long night, but we have waited four years for this victory. We can wait one more night."
Actually, Americans may have to wait several nights. Kerry appears to be setting his hopes on what are called "provisional ballots" in Ohio -- votes cast by people who are not listed on voting rolls or whose eligibility to vote is otherwise in question.
Under Ohio law, provisional votes are not counted for 10 days to give state election officials time to determine which votes are valid. Perhaps as many as 250,000 provisional ballots were cast in Ohio, but the exact number is in dispute. Democrats hope there may be enough valid ballots for Kerry to nullify Bush's lead in Ohio, which now stands at some 135,000 votes.
But White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said today that Bush is convinced he has won reelection. Card said Bush will hold off a formal victory declaration to give Kerry "time to reflect" on the election results. "In Ohio, President Bush has a lead of at least 140,000 votes. The [Ohio] secretary of state's office has informed us that this margin is statistically insurmountable, even after the provisional ballots are considered," Card said, adding that Bush will make a statement later today.
Bush currently holds the nationwide lead, having won 28 states and 254 electoral votes. Kerry has won at least 19 states and the District of Columbia and 252 electoral votes. A win in Ohio, which has 20 electoral votes, would put either candidate over the magic number of 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.
The delay in Ohio is reminiscent of what happened in Florida four years ago. Then it took 36 days of recounts, legal challenges, and eventually a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court to declare Bush the winner. The races in Iowa and New Mexico, which have fewer electoral votes, are also too close to call.
Peter Kuznick, a professor of American history at American University in Washington, told RFE/RL that Kerry will probably not be able to pull out a victory in Ohio. Kuznick said Kerry's likely defeat may have been inevitable because his supporters never really felt comfortable with him.
"Democrats don't like Kerry nearly as much as many of the Republicans do like Bush. Kerry fell flat in this campaign. Of all the Kerry supporters that I spoke to, there was almost no one who expressed a real enthusiasm and a real liking for Kerry himself. Kerry just never succeeded in capturing the imagination of the American people," Kuznick said.
Still, Kuznick said he does not believe Kerry should abandon his effort to win the election. "I think it's a long shot. If I were a betting man, I would bet on George Bush at this moment," he said. "But I think that the Democrats have to pursue the possibility that Kerry might still be able to pull this out."
But Kuznick said the victory may not serve to unite the country. He noted that Bush got about 500,000 fewer popular votes in 2000 than his opponent, Vice President Al Gore. Now, he says, Kerry hopes to win while getting 3 million fewer votes than Bush. If Kerry succeeds, Kuznick believes he would end up presiding over a country as deeply divided as it has been under Bush's leadership.
In this year's election, Americans also voted for members of Congress. In the House of Representatives, Bush's Republican Party expanded its majority from 227 seats to at least 232 seats, according to incomplete returns. There are 435 seats in the House.
In the Senate, the Republicans expanded their majority from 51 to at least 53 out of 100 seats. In the process, they even defeated the Democratic Party's Senate minority leader, Tom Daschle of South Dakota.
Despite that loss, Democrats pointed to one success with the election of Barack Obama, who will represent the state of Illinois. In his victory speech last night, Obama -- the son of a white American mother and an African Muslim -- spoke of the problems he faced trying to succeed in politics in a predominantly white America.
"They felt that in a nation as divided as ours, there was no possibility that someone who looked like me could ever aspire to the United States Senate. They felt that, in a fearful nation, someone named Barack Obama could never hope to win an election. And yet, here we stand because we had a different concept, a different notion of the American people," Obama said.
If Bush wins another term, analysts say a Republican Congress would help him push a conservative agenda that is likely to include tax cuts and antiabortion judicial nominees.