A huge number of Americans went to the polls yesterday to vote for Republican President George W. Bush or Democratic Senator John F. Kerry. Early today, it wasn't clear who had won.

As vote-counting continued early this morning, Bush had almost 52 million and Kerry had more than 48 million. The president won many southern and western states. Those states gave him a lead in the electoral college but not the 270 votes he needs to be re-elected. (See "What's Next" for more about the electoral college.)

It could be days before there's a winner. If that sounds familiar, it should. In 2000, Bush, then-governor of Texas, was declared the winner over Vice President Al Gore 36 days after the election.

Many Americans stood in line for hours to vote yesterday. Some polls stayed open late to give everyone in line the opportunity to vote.

Political experts had said that the election would be decided in three states -- Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida -- and that whoever won two of them likely would win. Bush won Florida. Kerry won Pennsylvania. Ohio was too close to call.

Bush and his family were at the White House last night watching the results on TV like millions of other Americans. The president voted earlier in his home state of Texas and said, "I've given it my all."

Kerry voted in Massachusetts after telling supporters in Wisconsin that he felt it was "a magical kind of day."

Yesterday marked the end of a long campaign. Bush and Kerry crisscrossed the country for months trying to win votes. Each man spoke at length about what he would do on issues including education and the economy.

Recent polls showed that almost half of likely voters were deciding based on which man they thought was best qualified to keep the country safe from attacks such as those that killed nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001.

Bush, 58, said that the nation shouldn't change leaders in the middle of a war. The United States went to war in Afghanistan just weeks after Sept. 11 to defeat al Qaeda, the group responsible for the attacks. In March 2003 the United States invaded Iraq. Bush said Iraq had dangerous weapons that its leader Saddam Hussein could use against Americans. Even though those weapons have not been found, the president said the United States was safer because Hussein was no longer in power.

Kerry, 60, fought in the Vietnam War and has been in the Senate since 1985. He voted to support the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but during the presidential campaign he said that Bush should have focused on Afghanistan, where al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was thought to be hiding.

Bush said he was sure he had the nation on the right course.

"You can be certain and wrong," Kerry responded.

-- Tracy Grant

John F. Kerry, with wife Teresa Heinz Kerry, waves to supporters after voting in Boston, Massachusetts.Kindergartner Angel Martinez Jr. ponders his unofficial vote in Wichita, Kansas.President Bush, first lady Laura Bush and their daughters arrive to vote in Crawford, Texas.