Election Day began for Sen. John F. Kerry with so much promise, with exit polling favoring his candidacy and crowds gathering wherever he appeared. But as the night turned cold and wet and stretched into early morning, Kerry stayed in his Beacon Hill home, his chances for victory slipping away.
It was Kerry's running mate, Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), who appeared before supporters gathered in Copley Square at 2:30 a.m. to vow that the election was not yet over. "It's been a long night, but we've waited for four years for this victory -- we can wait one more night," he said. "We will fight for every vote."
Tens of thousands of nervous supporters had crammed the square to hear singer Sheryl Crow and wait for any bit of good news as the outcome looked increasingly grim. Kerry aides described mathematical possibilities that would give them a win, but the optimism with which they began Tuesday was long gone. But there was no concession speech, a mistake Democrats believe Al Gore made in 2000 in his closely contested race with George W. Bush, giving the Republican an air of inevitability that Gore could never reverse.
"The vote count in Ohio has not been completed," Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill said in a statement an hour before Edwards's appearance. "There are more than 250,000 remaining votes to be counted. We believe when they are, John Kerry will win Ohio."
In the closing hours of a marathon day filled with at first hope, and then high tension, the Democratic challenger kept his thoughts about the future to himself. But at several points, the candidate -- who often seemed maddeningly unable to connect to voters -- waxed warm and sentimental. Kerry embraced supporters in Wisconsin at his last campaign event, thanked teary staffers who had stuck with him when he was all but written off a year ago, and even reached out to the members of his traveling press corps, whom he had not spoken to in months.
As it became clear that the race would not be decided early, aides circulated the word that Kerry would not be inviting reporters to his home to wait for returns -- as Bush had done. "To bring you in would be overload," explained spokesman Joe Lockhart, noting that journalists had been on the candidate's heels all day.
Instead Kerry ate dinner with his family and received briefings from Cahill and strategist Bob Shrum as his chance of becoming president seemed to come down to Ohio.
Kerry began the day in La Crosse, Wis., where he had arrived about 2 a.m. after 20 hours of campaigning. By 7:30, before the polls opened, he was at a campaign canvassing center in his trademark gold jacket to thank supporters and hand out canvassing materials before sending them off to track down voters. "I'm counting on you," he said. "Today . . . we're linking hearts and hands, and we're going to take America back to a better place. I want to thank you."
"Thank you," the campaign workers shouted back.
"It's truly touching," Kerry responded. "I am touched and moved. . . . It's such a magical kind of day."
When he arrived back at his plane, Kerry had a sentimental program in store for those traveling with him. First, he came back to the press cabin with boxes of red fleece jackets, picking out sizes and thanking reporters who had covered him.
Then, he beckoned to the front cabin the seven reporters who have been with him since the Iowa caucuses. To them he gave small silver engraved bowls to commemorate their time together. Some emerged misty-eyed. Later, he presented his staff with silver picture frames.
"I don't think anyone can anticipate what it's like seeing your name on the ballot for president," he said wistfully, seconds after he voted in a basement room at the statehouse in Boston. He was accompanied by his daughters, Vanessa and Alex, who also voted, and by his wife, Teresa, who had voted in Pennsylvania. With a mammoth press news media contingent tracking his every breath through the streets of Boston, Kerry stepped outside the historic building to say some final words he had prepared.
"This campaign has been an amazing journey, a wonderful journey," he said as hundreds of supporters cheered.
"The American people have opened their homes, their hearts to us," Kerry said. "When you go state to state and people, so many thousands of them, invest their hopes in you . . . they share their dreams. If you're not moved by that, you're missing something."
The Massachusetts senator said it was "spectacular" to be back in Boston, and to no one's surprise he managed to make it back for his traditional Election Day lunch of clam chowder, littleneck clams and dark beer at the Union Oyster House.
Kerry's running mate, Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), arrived in Boston shortly before 10 p.m. After a giddy two-hour plane ride during which staff members gave every indication the wind was at their back, their mood deflated upon arrival downtown -- and Edwards vanished from view.
Edwards started his Election Day in the battleground state of Florida, where he greeted voters at polling places in Tampa and Orlando. In Tampa, Edwards shook hands with those in a line snaking out of a Presbyterian church.
"You're going to do it," a man in a baseball cap shouted as Edwards approached. "We believe in you." Edwards spent the better part of the day conducting about 40 satellite interviews from Florida to news outlets in battleground states. "We actually feel very confident," Edwards told an interviewer earlier in the day. "Things seem to be going well so far. We've got people in place in case any hitches occur. But we expect any hitches to be relatively mild. We think this democracy's going to work."
As the top of ticket did in Wisconsin, Edwards posed for a photo in front of his campaign plane with his press corps, which he refers to as "Jack's friends" in honor of his 4-year-old son, who has grown attached to the media entourage traveling with his father.
Wagner is traveling with Edwards.