BOSTON, Nov. 3 -- In the end, John F. Kerry finally found the warmth and passion he was often criticized for lacking, emotionally telling those who fought so hard for him that he wished he could "wrap you up in my arms and embrace each and every one of you."
In a speech as gracious as it was eloquent, the senator from Massachusetts ended his quest for the presidency on Wednesday afternoon, hours after it became painfully clear that all roads to the White House had closed for him.
"I'm sorry that we got here a little bit late and a little bit short," said Kerry, standing alone on a stage at historic Faneuil Hall, as staff members wept. "In America, it is vital that every vote count . . . but the outcome should be decided by voters, not a protracted legal fight. I would not give up this fight if there was a chance that we would prevail."
After a two-year campaign that lurched from a sense of inevitability to despair and then back again, the end for Kerry came very quickly. Just before 11 a.m. Wednesday in the kitchen of Kerry's Beacon Hill townhouse, aides Bob Shrum and Mary Beth Cahill told him that the numbers would never add up for him in Ohio, his last hope -- that there were simply not enough ballots left to change the course of history.
"That's it," Kerry said. Then Kerry went into his study with his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, and called his running mate, Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) -- and then President Bush to concede.
"We talked about the danger of division in our country and the need, the desperate need for unity, for finding the common ground, coming together," Kerry said of his four-minute conversation with the president.
"We are required now to work together for the good of our country. In the days ahead, 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."
Kerry assured the people who supported him that their work "made a difference" and pledged to keep fighting for them.
"And building on itself . . . we go on to make a difference another day," he said. "I promise you that time will come. The time will come, the election will come when your work and your ballots will change the world. And it's worth fighting for."
Kerry and Edwards came out together at Faneuil Hall and stood before a 27-foot-wide oil painting depicting a historic Senate debate in 1830 between Daniel Webster and Robert Hayne. Inscribed on the frame are Webster's famous words: "Liberty and Union, Now and Forever."
With family members watching from the first row, Edwards introduced Kerry, thanked supporters and pledged to keep working for them. "You can be disappointed, but you cannot walk away," he said. "This fight has just begun." Kerry the early favorite to win the Democratic nomination because of his service as a decorated Navy officer in the Vietnam War, his experienced staff and his ability to raise money -- both from donors and from his rich wife. Yet, for all his ambition, candidate Kerry struggled with boldly defining himself and his vision for the nation -- and even for his own party.
Kerry often appeared unsure of his platform and political strategy, watching in frustration as party leaders such as Al Gore and the media crowned former Vermont governor Howard Dean the front-runner.
After his campaign foundered for months, top-heavy with advisers, Kerry finally shook things up. He fired his campaign manager in late 2003, lent his campaign several million dollars and bet the nomination on a last stand in Iowa.
In a comeback worthy of the history books, Kerry stormed from behind to win the Iowa caucuses and went on to sweep through the primaries with only nominal opposition from Edwards, his future running mate. Almost overnight, Kerry quelled critics and emerged as a formidable challenger to Bush -- but one who could never shake concerns about his likeability, vision and consistency on major issues, especially Iraq.