Bush told a crowd of cheering supporters in Washington tonight that his challenger had telephoned to congratulate him on his reelection to four more years in the White House.
"America has spoken and I am humbled by the trust and the confidence of my fellow citizens," Bush said. "With that trust comes the duty to serve all Americans and I will do my best to fulfill that duty every day as your president."
Throughout the day, Kerry had waited in the hope that tens of thousands of uncounted provisional ballots in Ohio could overcome a deficit of some 140,000 votes. Those ballots were cast by voters whose eligibility to vote was in question.
But just before Bush's victory speech, an emotional Kerry explained to disappointed supporters in his hometown of Boston that he had decided to concede the election.
"The outcome should be decided by voters, not a protracted legal process," Kerry said. "I would not give up this fight if there was a chance that we would prevail. But it is now clear that even when all the provisional ballots are counted -- which they will be -- there won't be enough outstanding votes for us to be able to win Ohio, and therefore we cannot win this election."
Nationwide, Bush won nearly 4 million more votes than Kerry. In the Electoral College, Bush captured 29 states with 274 electoral votes. Kerry won 19 states and the District of Columbia and 252 votes.
Just before Bush's victory speech, an emotional Kerry explained to disappointed supporters in his hometown of Boston that he had decided to concede the election.
The close finish reflected the nation's continued polarization following the contested election of 2000. The U.S. Supreme Court handed victory to Bush four years ago after the election results were disputed in Florida, a state Bush won easily this time around.
New York resident Melissa Draper, speaking to Reuters, expressed the disappointment felt by some of the 48 percent of American voters who supported Kerry.
"I'm just shocked, just shocked and so disappointed," Draper said. "I was really looking forward to change that was a little bit more balanced. And our foreign policy and our status in the world is so diminished, and I don't know that we'll ever be able to recover."
Like 2000, the so-called Republican red-state, Democratic blue-state divide continued. The only state that switched sides was northeastern New Hampshire, which Kerry won back from the Republicans.
Political analysts, citing exit polls, credited Bush for rallying his base supporters by appealing to traditional values. Key positions included his opposition to abortion, funding of embryonic stem-cell research, gay marriage, and support for gun owners' rights.
Patrick Basham, a senior fellow specializing in politics at the Cato Institute, a private policy research center in Washington, told RFE/RL that both parties were successful in registering voters and increasing turnout at the polling stations.
But Basham said that while Bush got a major boost from social conservatives, the president also convinced more Americans that he would be stronger on national security.
"I think the terrorism/national security issue was paramount for many voters although increasingly people have become ambivalent about Bush's leadership in this area, at the same time they were reluctant to hand over to Kerry specifically, and I think were simply anxious about changing horses in midstream," Basham said.
Exit polls also found voters split on Bush's handling of the war in Iraq and whether the United States is generally moving in the right direction.
Bruce Buchanan, a professor of government at the University of Texas, told RFE/RL that Bush ran an impressive campaign. He said the president managed to overcome a series of major hurdles, including the difficulties in Iraq and the Abu Ghurayb prison scandal.
"It's just a long string of difficult things that the administration managed to overcome, seemingly turning this issue into a referendum not on himself but on Senator Kerry because of an effective attack strategy during the entire campaign beginning right after Kerry secured the nomination last spring," Buchanan said.
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.
But the Democratic Party still has enough Senate seats to block passage of Supreme Court nominees and make the passage of any controversial legislation difficult.[For reaction from around the world to the U.S. presidential election, see RFE/RL's webpage "World Reacts To U.S. Election".]