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Bush Aides Pushed to Declare Victory

President's Team Wanted Networks to Call It for Bush

By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 3, 2004; 11:59 AM

Even before receiving a concession call from his opponent, President Bush scheduled a victory announcement in Washington today, with officials of his reelection campaign asserting that he has won at least 286 electoral votes -- 16 more than he needs.

Sen. John F. Kerry called Bush late this morning to concede the election, and White House officials said the president will make his announcement around 3 p.m. The campaign at first summoned reporters to appear at the Ronald Reagan Building between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. but then put off the event.

Bush had been on the brink of traveling to the Reagan Building early this morning to deliver a victory statement at a Republican National Committee celebration after two networks declared he had won Ohio.

But White House officials delayed those plans in confusion and annoyance after Kerry's camp told reporters he would not concede. The president, who is typically in bed by 10, stayed up until 5 a.m., huddling with White House senior adviser Karl Rove and other members of his staff to try to determine when he could make a solid case that he had won 270 electoral votes -- the finish line in the presidential election.

Rove and White House communications director Dan Bartlett angrily pushed television networks to declare Bush the winner. Some networks had called Ohio for him and others said he had won Nevada.

The combination of the two put him over 270, but no network had declared Bush the winner. So at 5:39 a.m., with only about 100 people left at the Republican celebration, White House chief of staff Andrew H. Card Jr. went to the rostrum to declare that Bush "has won the state of Ohio" and that his "margin is statistically insurmountable, even after the provisional ballots are considered."

Card said Bush "has also been declared the winner in Nevada." He said that "adds up to a convincing Electoral College victory" but that the president "has decided to give Senator Kerry the respect of more time to reflect on the results of this election."

"We are convinced that President Bush has won reelection with at least 286 Electoral College votes, and he also had a margin of more than 3.5 million popular votes," Card said.

"President Bush's decisive margin of victory makes this the first presidential election since 1988 in which the winner received a majority of the popular vote. And in this election, President Bush received more votes than any presidential candidate in our country's history," he said.

The official said the White House feels the networks were reluctant to declare Bush the winner because they were nervous after the experience of 2000 and were giving in because "Democrats and Senator Kerry's campaign are raising questions about Ohio."

Bush had been joined in the residence by about 30 friends but he left his guests at one point for the war room Rove had set up in the Old Family Dining Room. Among those who stayed until close to dawn were Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans, who was chairman of the 2000 campaign and played a role similar to Card's -- telling supporters at a rainy Austin celebration that Bush would not be there because the outcome was in dispute.

Bush-Cheney campaign chairman Marc Racicot told CNN this morning that Card wanted "to extend the appropriate courtesies and to be gracious under the circumstances and to allow the opportunity for the Kerry campaign, in the cold, hard light of day, to take a look at the situation and to come to a conclusion."

"Sometimes you're just overcome by the facts," Racicot said. "It's not easy and he recognizes that."

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