President Bush claimed a reelection victory and pledged that he will seek to earn the trust of those who did not back him during the long, contentious campaign.
In an explicit appeal to those Americans who voted for John F. Kerry, Bush said: "To make this nation stronger and better, I will need your support, and I will work to earn it. I will do all I can do to deserve your trust. A new term is a new opportunity to reach out to the whole nation."
Bush will begin his second term with strengthened majorities in the House and the Senate. Republicans expanded their Senate caucus from 51 to 55 members -- a significant gain but still not a filibuster-proof total. Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) lost his reelection bid to former congressman John Thune (R-S.D.). In the House, the GOP gained three seats and emerged with what could be a 29-seat majority once all the races are concluded.
Bush pivoted to the task of trying to heal a nation that appeared on Tuesday as culturally and geographically divided as the country that produced the disputed 2000 presidential election. Bush's speech offered an olive branch to the opposition, but he provided no hint of policy concessions to the Democrats. He outlined a domestic agenda that included broad tax reform and a proposal to allow younger workers to establish personal accounts using some of their Social Security payroll taxes. Many Democrats oppose Bush's Social Security plans, and he may face partisan opposition on tax reform.
The president also vowed to continue to put the fight against terrorism at the forefront of his agenda. His stance on terrorism proved to be a significant political asset in Tuesday's election, but Bush faces enormous problems in trying to stabilize Iraq and pull off elections there scheduled for early next year. Bush received 51 percent of the popular vote to Kerry's 48 percent, dropping the label of minority president that he had carried since 2000. Four years ago, Bush lost the popular vote to Vice President Al Gore, but on Tuesday he became the first president since his father in 1988 to be elected with a majority of all votes cast.
-- Dan Balz