The president spoke to cheering supporters in the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington four hours after Kerry had called to congratulate him on winning a second term and then, in an emotional appearance in Boston, told his own supporters: "Don't lose faith."
The Bush team lost no time in seeking to turn the results of the election, in which the president won four more electoral votes than needed, into support for its agenda.
Vice President Dick Cheney, preceding Bush, said the president had run on "a clear agenda" and that "the nation responded by giving him a mandate."
Bush cited his economic program built around additional tax cuts, changes in Social Security and a social program built on "values of family and faith," and said that as a result of the work of his first term, "we are entering a season of hope."
Exulting in results that 24 hours earlier looked unlikely as the first wave of voter polls indicated a close race and possibly a Kerry presidency, Bush said: "We had a long night, and a great night. The voters turned out in record numbers and delivered a historic victory."
In what turned out to be a midday dialogue from the opposite ends of the political spectrum, 500 miles apart and worn by the emotions of a bitter campaign, each side sought to publicly, and at least momentarily, reach out to the other and find common purpose.
Bush said, in extending a hand to Kerry's supporters: "To make this nation stronger and better, I will need your support and I will work to earn it. I will do all I can do to deserve your trust. A new term is a new opportunity to reach out to the whole nation. 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."
Kerry, speaking in the colonial-era Faneuil Hall in Boston, told his supporters: "We worked hard, and we fought hard, and I wish that things had turned out a little differently. But in an American election, there are no losers, because whether or not our candidates are successful, the next morning, we all wake up as Americans. And that, that is the greatest privilege and the most remarkable good fortune that can come to us on Earth."
The senator spoke emotionally and appeared to hold back tears. He was hoarse. And he delivered what those who had closely watched his campaign for a year said was one of his best speeches: succinct, straight-forward and sincere.
To those who would encourage him to continue to wage a court battle that would challenge the vote, particularly in Ohio, Kerry said:
"In America it is vital that every vote count, and that every vote be counted. But the outcome should be decided by voters, not a protracted legal process."
He said that he would not have given up the fight if he had a chance to succeed, but even when all the provisional ballots have been counted in Ohio, "which they will be, there won't be enough outstanding votes for us to win Ohio, and therefore we cannot win this election."
"In the days ahead," he said, "we must find common cause, we must join in common effort, without remorse or recrimination, without anger or rancor. America is in need of unity and longing for a larger measure of compassion. I hope President Bush will advance those values in the coming years."
Before he addressed the crowd that filled the old hall, Kerry's running mate, Sen. John Edwards, in what could be the opening shot of a bid for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, said: "The campaign may end today, but the battle for you and the hard-working Americans who built this country rages on."
The Kerry and Edwards families preceded the candidates into the hall. They and staff and supporters sat on wooden chairs. Kerry's sister, Peggy, sat in the front row, clutching a small American flag. Disappointed aides wiped tears from their cheeks and hugged one another before Kerry and Edwards arrived.
Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said that Kerry "looked at some numbers" this morning on the Ohio vote count and decided "let's not drag this out."
Three senior campaign strategists, Tad Devine, Mike Donilon and the candidate's longtime Boston pollster, Tom Kiley, sat together. Devine said Kerry decided to call Bush after discussing the Ohio numbers with Edwards and senior campaign staff members.
Mary Beth Cahill, Kerry's campaign manager, said the uncounted provisional ballots came from throughout the state, not only Democratic strongholds such as Cuyahoga County.
"It became clear that there were not concentrations that would be wholly in the Kerry campaign's favor," she said. She said that it was not until 10 a.m. that the campaign had received "the final information from various county courthouses."
Within an hour, Kerry was on the telephone to the president.
By an Associated Press count, Bush had 274 electoral votes, four more than needed for election.
Bush was standing in the Oval Office when an aide, Ashley Estes, told him Kerry was calling, McClellan told reporters about 30 minutes after the call took place. The president went to his desk, and later said Kerry had been "very gracious" in his concession.
Bush gave every sign of seeking to move forward with his policy agenda, telling one of the successful Republican Senate candidates with whom he spoke, Rep. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, "Now is the time to get it done," McClellan said.
The spokesman said the president had gone to bed at 5 a.m. "in very good spirits," awoke at 7 a.m., and was in the Oval Office an hour later. He said that after the round of congratulatory calls, the call at 11:02 a.m. from Kerry and his daily national security briefings, Bush left the office to work out.
Early in the morning, the White House chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., said Bush had achieved a "decisive margin of victory."
Card said several factors assured a Bush victory. The president was well ahead in the popular vote — crossing the 50% threshold, which no presidential candidate has done since 1988. Moreover, he said, the president's lead in Ohio could not be overcome, even with the uncounted provisional ballots.
As of this morning, there were 135,149 provisional votes, coming from 78 of the state's 88 counties. However, the 10 remaining counties generated only 10.47% of the state's provisional votes in the 2000 presidential election. Of those counties, the only sizable ones were Lucas County (Toledo) and Summit County (Akron). If the proportions held, that would mean perhaps another 15,000 provisional votes.
In 2000 about 90% of the provisional ballots in Ohio were valid. If that held true, that would mean 135,000 provisional ballots to be counted. Even if Kerry won 90% of those votes, that would not be sufficient to win the state.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin, one of the key remaining states where the vote was unclear, fell into the Kerry column. Iowa and New Mexico appeared to be in Bush's grasp.
Overall, it was a good day for Republicans. The party retained control of the House and Senate, picking up seats and knocking off the Democrats' leader in the upper house, Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota.
With the economy, terrorism and the war in Iraq as driving issues, the election drew a huge turnout, forcing election officials to extend voting hours in several of the hardest-fought states.
Early returns shaped up the way most experts had predicted. Bush swept the South — including Florida — and carried West Virginia, the states of the Great Plains and Colorado.
Kerry secured his base in the Northeast and captured New Hampshire, a state Bush won four years ago. Kerry also won Maryland and Pennsylvania, a state the president had visited more than any other.
Kerry swept the West Coast, carrying California, Oregon and Washington state. He also won New York and Illinois, among the biggest prizes.
Times staff writers Michael Finnegan, Matea Gold, Maura Reynolds, Henry Weinstein and Mary MacVean contributed to this report.