Bush to declare win before reaching magic 270 figure

President George Bush prepared to declare re-election victory today even though Democratic rival John Kerry refused to concede as results in the key state of Ohio remained uncertain.

President George Bush prepared to declare re-election victory today even though Democratic rival John Kerry refused to concede as results in the key state of Ohio remained uncertain.

“We will fight for every vote,” said Kerry running mate John Edwards.

After winning Nevada and pulling within 16 electoral votes of the 270 required for a second term, Bush was laying claim to Ohio’s 20 electoral votes over Kerry’s objections.

”We will not base our decision on a concession,” said Bush adviser Dan Bartlett.

The Electoral College count was excruciating: Bush won 28 states for 254 votes. Kerry won 18 states plus the District of Columbia for 242 votes.

Ceding nothing, Kerry dispatched Edwards to tell supporters in Boston: “We’ve waited four years for this victory. We can wait one more night.”

The remarks were an eerie echo of 2000 when advisers to both Bush and Democrat Al Gore told supporters that the race was too close to call – setting off a 36-day recount and a Supreme Court ruling that put Bush in office.

“We will fight for every vote,” Edwards said, borrowing a line from Gore. Both campaigns considered sending political and legal teams to Ohio, already the scene of duelling lawsuits over provisional ballots.

Inside the Bush campaign, an intense debate waged into the wee hours as some aides said parachuting teams into Ohio would ensure a political stalemate in a state Bush believes he has already won.

Bush, 58, won Florida this time, while Kerry took New Hampshire from Bush - the first and perhaps only state to switch parties – but it has just four electoral votes.

In addition to Ohio, results also were still pending from Wisconsin, New Mexico and Iowa.

Bush’s advisers told their boss he had won Ohio, but they nervously awaited confirmation.

“I believe I will win, thank you very much,” Bush said while watching results in the White House with his family and dog Barney.

The hold-up was over provisional ballots – those cast by people whose qualifications to vote were challenged. At 8am Irish time, Bush had a lead of 125,000 votes there were more provisional ballots outstanding.

“There’s no mathematical path to victory for Kerry in Ohio,” said Nicolle Devenish, spokeswoman for the Bush-Cheney campaign, arguing that Bush would get his share of the provisional ballots.

Nationwide, with 10% of the ballots still uncounted, 105 million people had voted – the same as in 2000.

Bush was winning the popular vote by around 3.8 million, or 51.3% to Kerry’s 47.8%.

A 269-269 tie in the Electoral College would throw the presidential race to the House of Representatives, controlled by the Republicans. Bush’s party extended its decade-long hold on the 435 seat House for another two years, knocking off four veteran Texas Democrats.

Republicans moved toward increasing their majority in the 100-Senate, winning Democratic seats in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Louisiana and the biggest price, defeating Senate Minority leader Tom Daschle in South Carolina.

He became the first party leader to lose a race for re-election in more than a half century.

Alongside the White House and congressional races, a full roster of propositions and local offices kept voters busy. But all eyes were focused on Kerry’s bid to make Bush the first president voted out of office in the midst of a war.

“I’ve given it my all,” Bush said after voting in near his ranch in Crawford, Texas, hoping to avoid being the first wartime president bounced from office.

The incumbent wanted to avoid the fate of his father – former President George Bush, who was ousted by voters in 1992 after waging war against Iraq and overseeing an ailing economy.

Legions of lawyers and election-rights activists watched for signs of voter fraud or disenfranchisement. New lawsuits sought clearer standards to evaluate provisional ballots in Ohio and a longer deadline to count absentee ballots in Florida.

While complaints were widespread, they weren’t significant. “So far, it’s no big, but lots of littles,” said elections expert Doug Chapin.

Voters were torn over the presidential race, in ways all too familiar.

Exit polls suggested that slightly more voters trusted Bush to handle terrorism than Kerry. A majority said the country was safer from terrorism than four years ago, and they overwhelmingly backed Bush.

However, among those who said they were very worried about a terrorist strike, Kerry held a slight lead. A majority of voters said things were going poorly in Iraq, and they heavily favoured Kerry.

With nearly one million jobs lost in Bush’s term, Kerry was favoured by eight of 10 voters who listed the economy as a top issue.

The nation’s mood? There was division on that, too. Half said the country was headed in the right direction, a good sign for the incumbent.

Voters welcomed an end to the longest, most expensive presidential election on record. “It’s the only way to make the ads stop,” Amanda Karel, 25, said as she waited to vote at a banquet hall in Columbus, Ohio.

Both sides spent a combined €472.5m on TV and radio ads, more than twice the total from 2000.

Bush won Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Kerry won California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and statewide in Maine.

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