A jubilant Vice President George Bush, ascending to the presidency on the force of a hard-fought, bitter campaign, Tuesday night sought to bandage any lingering political wounds with a deliberate embrace of his declared foes.
Striding into the George R. Brown Convention Center here moments after Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis conceded defeat, Bush brought to a close his nine-year journey, strewn over three political campaigns, to earn the White House.
And he did so with a conciliatory tone rarely heard in the vitriolic campaign.
“When I said I wanted a kinder and gentler nation, I meant it,” Bush declared as thousands of supporters cheered wildly.
“A campaign is a disagreement and disagreements divide. But an election is a decision and decisions clear the way for harmony and peace.
“And I meant to be a President for all the people . . . To those who supported me I want to be worthy of your trust and to those who did not I will try to earn it. And my hand is out to you.”
Bush likewise made a point of reaching out to Congress, the institution he so often blamed for the nation’s ills in the 13 months he campaigned across America.
“I’ll do my level best to reach out and work constructively with the United States Congress,” said Bush, who hours before he spoke came under moderate attack from Republican Senate leader Bob Dole for giving what Dole felt was short shrift to the election of congressional candidates.
Bush, surrounded by his family, appeared gleeful, at times interrupting himself with broad grins.
He said Dukakis had called him moments before he took the stage and had forwarded his congratulations.
“He was most gracious,” Bush said. “His call was personal.”
And the vice president took pains to compliment both Dukakis and the governor’s family, much as he did during the candidates’ last debate.
“The governor can take great satisfaction in the fact that his valiant family--Kitty and Kara and Andrea and John--did him proud.”
But Bush’s first and most prominent thanks went to the man he will succeed when he becomes America’s 41st President on Jan. 20.
“I thank Ronald Reagan--I thank him for turning our country around and for being my friend,” said Bush, who for much of his 1988 campaign was under Reagan’s immense political shadow.
Bush celebrated publicly in his adopted home state surrounded by 22 members of his family and scores of political aides.
His vice presidential nominee, Indiana Sen. Dan Quayle, appeared at a party in Washington, far away from the Bush celebration. Bush, in his remarks, praised Quayle for showing “great strength” during his tumultuous campaign.
The victory became clear Tuesday evening when key industrial states began falling into the Bush column as his strength held in the South and in the West, campaign manager Lee Atwater said.
“The first time I felt like Dukakis might not be able to prevail was when the Michigan results came in,” Atwater said.
Michigan the Turning Point
“I felt like when they projected New Jersey and Ohio very early it made it almost impossible for Dukakis to win. There was still a slight possibility he could win but Michigan was the back-breaker.”
The campaign manager, who noted with what appeared to be relief that he was unemployed as of Tuesday night, said that Bush was not formally told until 6 p.m. Pacific time that he had won, although he was given a running account of exit polls throughout the day.
Bush spent his last day as a candidate appearing upbeat, if a bit nervous about the outcome. In brief public appearances earlier Tuesday, he told reporters he was “very glad” that election day had arrived.
Shortly before 8 a.m., Bush arrived at a Ramada Inn off the Katy Freeway here in his black limousine, hopped out and strode into a voting booth.
Bush, after taking four minutes to fill out his ballot, left with his wife, Barbara, and daughter-in-law Margaret. Outside, he waved at some supporters, a contingent of Dukakis backers and at least 100 reporters.
And he good-naturedly refused entreaties to predict the outcome.
“No predictions, no predictions,” he said. “I feel it’s unlucky to make predictions.”
In his classic verbal shorthand, Bush described his day: “Relaxed. Family day. . . . Nervous. Hope it all works out.”
But the vice president was clearly loose. Amid the clamor of domestic reporters outside his polling place, Bush heard a lone French television reporter shout an inquiry.
“Je suis tres heureuse, tres heureuse aujourd’hui!” Bush shouted back.
Translation: “I’m very happy, very happy today.”
With that, Bush hopped toward his limousine, snapped a wave toward the press corps and hollered: “Au revoir! “
His motorcade then dropped Bush at his Houston headquarters, where he praised Republican volunteers and sat down at a bank of telephones to call potential voters.
“Marilyn, this is George Bush calling from our headquarters,” he said. “No, I’m not kidding.”
To his wife, Barbara, on the next phone, Bush advised: “Don’t talk so much. Make more calls.”
Later that night in the convention center, the outcome certain and his voice adopting a tone of wonder, Bush declared: “We can now speak the most majestic words democracy has to offer: The people have spoken.”
But Bush, who will hold his first press conference as President-elect today in Houston, offered what seemed a more heartfelt commentary at the close of his remarks, remembering the days when victory was not so certain.
“And one other thing,” said the man who placed third in February’s Iowa caucuses only to resurrect himself eight days later in New Hampshire’s primary. “Once, in days that were a little darker, I made a promise and now I’ll keep it.”
His voice ringing with pride, he added:
“Thank you, New Hampshire.”
Staff writer John Balzar contributed to this story.