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U.S.: Bush, Republicans Bask In Victory, But National Divide Persists

President George W. Bush has won a second four-year term in office, gaining a larger margin of victory than four years ago but still presiding over a divided nation. Bush vowed to maintain vigorous antiterrorism efforts and help to build democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan. His opponent, John Kerry, made an appeal for unity after the election revealed persisting differences among Americans. Opinion surveys show the Bush campaign's stress on traditional values was as important as concern about terrorism in gaining his reelection.

New York, 4 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- This time it took only several hours for George W. Bush to emerge from the U.S. presidential campaign as the clear winner.

The president collected nearly 4 million more popular votes than Democratic Senator John Kerry, and there was much less contention over the decisive vote, which took place in the state of Ohio.

Bush prevailed in a tough race in which Kerry assailed his conduct of the war in Iraq and portrayed him as a divisive figure both internationally and domestically.

With Republicans strengthening their majority in the U.S. Congress, the president pledged to follow through with core issues. They include plans to reform the U.S. tax code, fight terrorism, and build and sustain democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He made an appeal to the many Kerry supporters for their trust. "A new term is a new opportunity to reach out to the whole nation," bush said. "We have one country, one constitution, and one future that binds us. And when we come together and work together, there is no limit to the greatness of America."

Bush won at least 274 electoral votes -- four more than he needed. Kerry had 252 electoral votes.

Despite the clear victory -- compared to the 36-day battle in 2000 -- the fault lines in this election were similar to Bush's race against Al Gore four years ago. Exit polls showed Bush gaining the most support from citizens who are white, live in rural areas, and are religiously observant. Minorities, urban dwellers, and the less religious were primary backers of Kerry. This echo of 2000 persisted despite terrorist attacks, two wars, and growing fears about homeland security.

In his concession speech, Kerry said he talked with Bush yesterday about the dangers of these divisions and what he called the "desperate need for unity." "In the days ahead, we must find common cause, we must join in common effort, without remorse or recrimination, without anger or rancor," Kerry said. "America is in need of unity and longing for a larger measure of compassion."

In addition to the presidency, Republicans picked up at least two seats in the House of Representatives and four seats in the Senate, expanding their majority in both chambers.

The Associated Press reported that about 120 million people cast ballots in the election, or nearly 60 percent of the population. That makes it the highest percentage turnout since 1968. That reflects the success of both parties in stimulating voters, said Patrick Basham, a senior fellow specializing in politics at the Cato Institute, a private policy-research center in Washington.

Basham said Bush got a major boost from social conservatives and was able to convince 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," he said. "At the same time, they were reluctant to hand over to Kerry specifically, and I think were simply anxious about 'changing horses in midstream.'"
"The social issues are a very powerful mover of American voters in ways that Democrats regard as contrary to many of their interests."

An exit poll conducted for AP and U.S. broadcast networks found that moral issues were just as important to voters as terrorism and the economy. Such issues include opposition to abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, and gay marriage.

Bruce Buchanan, an expert on the U.S. presidency at the University of Texas, told RFE/RL that the influence of such issues was underestimated. "The social issues are a very powerful mover of American voters in ways that Democrats regard as contrary to many of their interests. That's a phenomenon that we have to explain and understand, I think, if we're going to get a handle on how American politics works at the presidential level," Buchanan said.

Indicative of this trend was a sweeping defeat of gay marriage in 11 U.S. states. Voters in these states backed state constitutional amendments to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

But as another sign of division over cultural issues, the state of California, led by its Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, supported a $6 billion measure to support human embryonic stem-cell research. The Bush administration has restricted funding on such research to existing stem-cell lines.

[For reaction from around the world to the U.S. presidential election, see RFE/RL's webpage "World Reacts To U.S. Election".]