Even as the votes were being cast, John Kerry was convinced he had won. Turnout looked huge-a good sign for Democrats-and exit polls were encouraging. Early in the evening of Nov. 2, Democratic consultant Bob Shrum reportedly turned to Mr. Kerry and asked: "Can I be the first to call you Mr. President?"
First and last, perhaps. Despite the initially encouraging signs, Election Day proved disastrous not only for Mr. Kerry but for Democrats in general. They lost the White House by 3.5 million popular votes as George W. Bush racked up the first outright majority in a presidential election since 1988. Republicans strengthened their hold on the Solid South, sweeping five open Senate seats on their way to a net pickup of four seats in the upper chamber. The GOP gained in the House as well, earning a comfortable, 30-seat majority.
A newly energized President Bush moved quickly to clean out his cabinet and focus on his legacy, promising to fix Social Security, radically revise the tax code, and bring democracy to the Middle East. Democrats, meanwhile, settled in for a long period of soul-searching-not to mention searching for the candidate who would lead them out of the political wilderness.