Cover Story

Man of faith, Man of the hour

Minorities, social conservatives, and war proponents hand George W. Bush a historic win-sending a GOP incumbent back to the White House for the first time in two decades.

Issue: "Bush's moral mandate," Nov. 13, 2004

After a long, bitter campaign fight-and a seemingly endless election night-no one wanted to miss the moment of victory. They'd crammed into the Ronald Reagan building the night before, all those well-dressed, well-scrubbed Bush loyalists, hoping for a victory speech that never came.

So by 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 3, before John Kerry could even make his concession official, the faithful in Washington already were lined up three deep outside the Reagan building, anticipating the moment they'd worked so hard for. Supposedly, only campaign volunteers and invited guests from the previous night's abortive celebration would be allowed into the tightly secured hall, but hardcore Bush fans weren't about to let that stop them. They toted Blackberries and whipped out printed e-mails from friends working on the campaign-anything to prove they had some connection to the winner.

Once inside, huge TV screens showing Fox News riveted their attention. There was a grim-faced John Kerry, saying the words this crowd had waited so long to hear. It was official. It was over. And the Supreme Court hadn't even gotten involved.

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Despite dire warnings of dirty tricks, contested ballots, and razor-thin margins, the election of 2004 produced a clear winner within 15 hours of the first poll closings. Though the Electoral College map shifted almost imperceptibly from 2000, Mr. Bush swamped his opponent by 3.5 million popular votes, achieving the first outright majority in a presidential election since 1988.

But the relative ease of his win belied the deep divisions in the country. In his congratulatory phone call at 11:00 Wednesday morning, Mr. Kerry twice pressed the president to bridge the divide that separated the parties-and Mr. Bush twice agreed it was important to do so. Hours later, in his public concession speech in Boston's Faneuil Hall, an unusually emotional Mr. Kerry made his point explicit. "America is in need of unity and longing for a larger measure of compassion," he said, after choking back tears in thanking his supporters. "I hope President Bush will advance those values in the coming years."

Within minutes, the president delivered a bridge-building speech of his own, asking for the support of Democratic voters: "A new term is a new opportunity to reach out to the whole country," he said.

After an unexpectedly strong win, however, many cultural conservatives were in no mood to talk about reconciliation with the liberals. Mr. Bush's margin was big enough to count as a mandate, in the eyes of his most fervent supporters.

"Today, the president owes the pro-life movement a huge debt," Operation Rescue President Troy Newman said in a statement just moments after the Kerry concession speech. "Mr. President, you have been given a mandate to end abortion in our nation by the American people who cast their votes for you. Please move forward aggressively to appoint pro-life federal judges, and when the time comes, appoint Supreme Court Justices that will strike down the scourge of Roe v. Wade."

Moments later, the Christian Coalition cranked out a similarly aggressive-sounding news release pressing for passage of the Federal Marriage Amendment and a new Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act. "Radical liberals have used every trick in the book to try and silence the church. The sleeping giant has been awakened and will refuse to be intimidated by secular fundamentalists."

Despite the hyperbole of some on the right-perhaps induced by euphoria mixed with lack of sleep-there was widespread consensus that Mr. Bush owed his reelection largely to his evangelical base. "Christian evangelical votes made the difference in this election, there's no doubt about it," said Roberta Combs, executive director of the Christian Coalition. "Four years ago they didn't really know President Bush, and they didn't turn out as strongly as they might have. But I think Christian evangelicals got to know him and trust him. They know he's a man of faith-he's spoken about it and he's practiced it."

But Matthew Spalding, director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center at the Heritage Foundation, warns that focusing on evangelicals alone misses the full impact of what the president has accomplished in terms of coalition-building. "It's not just the religious right-this is bigger. Bush got a significant portion of the Hispanic vote-42 percent. He got 11 percent of the black vote nationally and better than that in some states. He got the Catholic vote, the Protestant vote. It's now accurate to say there's a bloc-there's a group out there that takes these moral issues seriously. They're the cornerstone of the Bush coalition."

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