New York, 3 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Americans have woken up to an officially undecided presidential election, but aides to George W. Bush say the U.S. president has won.
Advisers to Democratic challenger John Kerry plan to assess the situation involving uncounted ballots in the decisive state of Ohio, where he trails Bush, and issue a statement later today.
Bush's chief of staff, Andrew Card, said this morning that the election amounted to a clear victory for the president. "This all adds up to a convincing Electoral College victory as well as a strong endorsement of President Bush by his fellow Americans in the popular vote."
Bush is leading Kerry by more than 3 million votes nationwide. But continued questions about results in Ohio mean neither man is able to claim the state's 20 crucial electoral votes that would put either one over the 270-vote margin needed for victory in the Electoral College.
There was heavy turnout nationwide with only scattered reports of voting problems, such as ballot shortages and difficulties with some new touch-screen voting machines.
Bush currently has a 140,000-vote lead in Ohio, but officials there must wait 10 days to begin counting "provisional ballots" -- votes cast by people whose eligibility may not be valid. As many as 250,000 provisional votes may have been cast in Ohio but that figure must still be confirmed.
Earlier today, Kerry's vice-presidential candidate, John Edwards, said the Democrats will not concede defeat until the vote count is final. "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," Edwards said.
With a few exceptions, the election has followed a pattern similar to the 2000 election and reflected nationwide divisions borne out by numerous opinion polls.
At latest report, the only state that had switched sides from one party to the other was New Hampshire, which Kerry won back from the Republicans. The so-called red-state, blue-state divide continues.
Bush defeated Vice President Al Gore four years ago after disputed balloting in Florida was referred to the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided in Bush's favor. But unlike 2004, when he narrowly lost it, Bush has won the popular vote by a substantial number of votes. And he also carried Florida by a wide margin.
Terry Enns, a professor of law at Ohio State University, has been monitoring the legal aspects of the race and spoke to RFE/RL. In the absence of any major irregularities reported in Ohio, Enns said it is up to the Kerry campaign to decide the next step.
"I haven't seen indications of anything fishy. I think it's the way a close election comes out and the provisional ballots are actually a safeguard for people because it permits them to cast a ballot and decide later whether to count it rather than not permitting them to vote, which can't be cured," Enns said.
Ohio was a microcosm of the nation yesterday. There was heavy turnout nationwide with only scattered reports of voting problems, such as ballot shortages and difficulties with some new touch-screen voting machines.
Bush campaigned as a strong leader in the war on terrorism, promoting tax cuts and support for traditional values. Based on some of the voters' comments to pollsters, the president appears to have won support for his antiterror efforts. But exit polls also found voters split on whether Bush has handled the war in Iraq properly and whether the country is moving in the right direction.
Bush's Republican Party also looks likely to strengthen its control on the two chambers of the U.S. legislature -- the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Republicans will gain at least two seats in the Senate, for a 53-47 majority. Among their gains was John Thune's victory over Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle -- the first defeat of a Senate party leader in a reelection race in more than half a century. [For reaction from around the world to the U.S. presidential election, see RFE/RL's webpage "World Reacts To U.S. Election".]