President George Bush with his family after voting on election day. (AP photo)
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON – After a long night of poll watching and an hour or two of sleep, President Bush was back in the Oval Office this morning when he got the call he was waiting for: John Kerry was on the line to concede.
Bush planned to address the nation in midafternoon.
The president had hoped to give his victory speech much earlier, but the election stayed close through the night and the Democrats indicated they might keep fighting for Ohio. Then Kerry conceded.
In their telephone exchange, Bush told the Massachusetts senator, “I think you were an admirable, worthy opponent” and waged “one tough campaign,” according to White House press secretary Scott McClellan. “I hope you are proud of the effort you put in. You should be,” the aide quoted Bush as saying to his vanquished political foe.
McClellan said that when the three-to-four minute call was over, the president turned to his advisers and said Kerry had been “very gracious.”
Bush was in the Oval Office at 9:02 a.m. MST when he was notified that Kerry was on the phone. After the call, Bush hugged senior members of his staff, including White House chief of staff Andy Card and Joe Hagin, deputy chief of staff.
McClellan said of Bush’s upcoming remarks: “I think you can expect the president will talk to the American people about how we move the country together to get things done.”
When Bush went to bed about 5 a.m. EST, it wasn’t clear he had won. He awoke at 7 a.m. and arrived in the Oval Office about an hour later with his father, the former president. He visited with his senior staff and made congratulatory calls, including one to Rep. Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina, who won his race for the Senate.
“Now’s the time to get it done,” McClellan said Bush told DeMint in a reference to the president’s second-term agenda.
Bush monitored returns throughout the night from the White House residence, surrounded by friends and family. He went to bed near dawn as Card traveled the two blocks to address GOP supporters gathered at a downtown federal office building.
“We are convinced that President Bush has won re-election with at least 286 Electoral College votes,” Card told the weary, cheering troops.
Re-election spares Bush a couple of indignities: He will not repeat his father’s failure to earn a second term in the Oval Office and he will not become the nation’s first wartime president to be booted from office.
But keeping the raft of promises he made in Campaign 2004 — many left over from Campaign 2000 — will require significant resolve.
Even before Election Day, Bush had scheduled a Cabinet meeting for Thursday to get his administration working on his most important domestic objectives: simplify the tax code, allow younger workers to privately invest some of their Social Security withholdings in the stock market and limit medical liability awards. He has pledged a full-court press with Congress, where a continued GOP lock on the majority would make getting his wishes granted easier but not guaranteed.