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Bush Celebrates While Democrats Reflect

The hard-fought 2004 U.S. presidential election came to an end Wednesday when Democrat John Kerry conceded defeat to the Republican incumbent, President George Bush. Mr. Bush now looks ahead to another four years in office while Mr. Kerry returns to the Senate.

After John Kerry conceded there was no way to win the key battleground state of Ohio, President Bush promised a productive second term to his supporters in Washington.

"We have one country, one Constitution and one future that binds us," said Mr. Bush. "And when we come together and work together, there is no limit to the greatness of America."

Mr. Bush ran as a war president and constantly reminded voters of his leadership in the war on terror. But the Republicans also pounded away at John Kerry, raising questions about his Senate record and whether he was up to the job of being commander in chief.

Charles Cook is an independent political analyst in Washington. He believes the Republicans ran the more effective campaign.

"I think his [Kerry's] campaign was good, but not great," he noted. "You know, I think the president had huge liabilities. I think another Democrat might have been able to take him, but I think they [the Republicans] ran a great campaign."

After narrowly losing the popular vote in the presidential election four years ago, Republicans mounted an aggressive get-out-the-vote campaign this year that specifically targeted religious voters and those concerned with moral issues like abortion and gay marriage.

Presidential historian Michael Beschloss spoke on ABC television.

"Well, you know the most fascinating thing in the ABC News exit polls I thought, was the number of people who voted for President Bush because of moral issues," he noted. "I think the other thing is that when you have a president who is fighting a war that often times trumps everything else."

But the voter exit polls also showed Americans divided over Iraq and domestic issues like jobs and health care.

In his concession speech in Boston, John Kerry appealed to the president to reach out to Democrats and independents in his second term.

"America is in need of unity and longing for a larger measure of compassion," said Mr. Kerry. "I hope President Bush will advance those values in the coming years. I pledge to do my part to try to bridge the partisan divide."

The Kerry defeat will likely set off a new round of soul-searching by Democrats, many of whom are concerned that their party is being marginalized in large regions of the country like the south, the mountain west and the Midwest.

Former Democratic Senator George Mitchell of Maine told NBC television that his party must find a way to connect with more conservative, rural voters who now favor the Republican Party in overwhelming numbers.

"The Democratic Party reached its peak in the past century when Franklin Roosevelt put together a coalition that spanned the entire country," he said. "And I think what we are lacking now is any kind of reasonable base in large parts of the country as you can see on the election map. I think you have to be a national party to compete in national elections."

Republicans also solidified their control of Congress in this election, gaining seats in both the Senate and House of Representatives.

But with one party in control of so many levers of government, public pressure will build on the president and his Republican supporters to produce legislation.

Washington political analyst Stuart Rothenberg says Mr. Bush may have only a narrow window to push through his agenda for a second term.

"In the next few months, the president may have the opportunity to take advantage of a larger Republican majority, particularly in the Senate," he explained. "But after that, things are likely to bog down. The president does not have much of an agenda at the moment. So first, he has to decide what he wants to do in a second term and, as I mentioned, second terms are often not particularly productive."

The president is expected to face a host of old and new challenges in his second term. These include familiar issues like Iraq and the war on terror but also domestic issues such as shoring up the government pension and medical care programs for older Americans.