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."
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.