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Kerry Concedes to Bush

Aired November 3, 2004 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer in New York.
Twelve full hours after the last poll closings of election 2004, there's now an undisputed winner. The Democratic candidate for president, John F. Kerry, has conceded the race in a phone call to the Republican incumbent, President George W. Bush, and will do so publicly, possibly within the next hour, at Faneuil Hall in Boston.

You're looking at the Senator's Beacon Hill townhouse, where we expect to see him emerge in the next few minutes to make the drive to Faneuil Hall. All this, as tens of thousands of so-called provisional ballots remain uncounted in Ohio, the state that briefly conjured up nightmares of Florida 2000 revisited.

But Kerry's aides promise not to quote, "make this a mystery too long." And the candidate himself brought the suspense to an end late this morning. Our coverage begins at the White House.

Our senior White House correspondent, John King, standing by in Washington -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a dramatic and a very emotional day here at the Bush White House. Early this morning, as you noted, the president did take the call in the Oval Office. It ran about three or four minutes.

Karl Rove, the president's top political adviser, telling me a short time ago Senator Kerry could not have been more gracious. Senator Kerry conceded the election. Both men applauded each other, complimented each other on a hard fought, tenacious campaign, Senator Kerry offering to work with the president, Karl Rove says, to try of heal the wounds of the campaign and the partisan divide of the country.

They are celebrating here. Some tears shed this morning in the Bush White House, the president making his way through the West Wing, thanking the staff for their hard work. He will thank the campaign staff in a speech he will make later today.

Already, though, Wolf, they are turning the page, if you will. Mr. Bush today will claim a clear governing mandate, a majority in the popular vote, a decisive Electoral College victory. Mr. Bush will say the American people have spoken with clarity in embracing his agenda.

On the home front that means low taxes. Mr. Bush will make another run at making his tax cuts permanent. Social Security reform, health care as well. And the president also views this as a reaffirmation of support for his strategy in the war on terrorism. That, of course, was the most controversial debating point in the campaign.

So they will celebrate today, Wolf. You will hear from the president two hours after Senator Kerry, at 3 p.m. Eastern. But they also already, they have to put together a State of the Union address. They have to put together a new budget in which Mr. Bush must begin to keep his promise to reduce the deficit.

And two weeks from this week, Mr. Bush will travel south to South America for the Asian-Pacific economic summit, international challenges confronting this president, as well. Celebration for a campaign won, already trying to look ahead to a second term of governing -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He'll have an opportunity to try to unite the country at the end of the month, John, when he goes down to Little Rock for the opening of the Bill Clinton Library down there, as well.

We're looking at a live picture, John, of the -- of the Beacon Hill townhouse where John Kerry lives. He's going to be driving over to Faneuil Hall in Boston to make that speech. You're a native of Boston. How far is it -- how long does it take to drive from Beacon Hill to Faneuil Hall?

KING: Well, it depends on the traffic, Wolf. It's a very short walk. It's about a quarter mile from where Senator Kerry lives on Beacon Hill, just down Beacon Hill to the historic Faneuil Hall, Quincy Marketplace area. He will drive, of course, because of Secret Service protection, because the police will block the streets. It is simply a matter of three to five minutes at the most for Senator Kerry to get down to that event.

BLITZER: All right. We're just trying to plot out this afternoon, this coverage this hour. John, we'll be getting back to you.

Our Candy Crowley is in Boston, getting ready to cover this story. She's been there throughout this campaign, on and off.

Candy, set the scene for us.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, tears here as well, although of a hugely different sort, as you might imagine, from the top down. A huge disappointment.

Here's how it unfolded, Wolf. In the early hours of this morning, the Kerry staff got together. They tell me they talked to politicians and those on the ground in Ohio, both Republicans and Democrats. They brought in any number of experts, looking at the numbers.

Was there a scenario under which the Ohio Bush win could be turned around? Were there enough votes that had not yet been counted? Were there absentee ballots? Could any of it change the outcome? Ultimately, they came down to one answer, and that was no. Around 9:30, Mary Beth Cahill, who is Senator Kerry's campaign manager, called the Senator and said, "We don't -- we don't see these numbers ever turning around in Ohio. There's not a scenario under which we can see that as likely."

The senator said he needed some time. He did talk to his running mate, John Edwards. There was conversation between the two of them about how they wanted to handle it.

Around about 10:30 is when Senator Kerry told his staff that he wanted to go ahead and concede. And of course, shortly after 11, made that phone call to the president. A tough one.

This was a tough race. And I'll tell you, the -- the letdown is enormous. If you look back over the past week, you went from crowd to crowd to crowd. Enormous crowds. Electrified the staff. Madison, Wisconsin, they figured -- they kept telling us 80,000 people. They brought in Springsteen -- Bruce Springsteen. Just packed, the main street there.

So there were all of these uplifting moments. In the rain in Milwaukee, they brought in thousands, and it was a horrible day, and yet people were out there with their signs.

So they had this kind of psychological lift as they came in to Boston. They were feeling really good.

Now, aides will tell you, now, well, they always knew Ohio was a tossup, but, boy, their heart was telling them something different, and especially when they got those early exit polls in, which as we all know now were showing Kerry ahead in both Ohio and Florida.

As the night wore on, I'm told by aides, around 7 p.m., they began to sort of feel that that was shifting. And that's when that sort of downhill slide began.

So they really came from some awfully good highs over the last week of this campaign into what ended this morning with the staff ultimately deciding there was no way to pull out Ohio.

Second-guessing, oh, yes, all over the place. I asked one staffer what they could have done differently. Said, "You know, I don't know." They thought that the huge turnout would favor them. They played hard in both Ohio and Florida.

I said, "Well, what if you just played in one of them, because you won Pennsylvania. If you'd won either one, Florida, Ohio, it would be a different story."

But the staffer and strategist said, "Ohio and Florida were saturated." Basically what more could they have done? Could they have gone to Ohio more? They don't think so. Could they have spent more money on ads? They don't think so.

So it's a lot of disappointment here. You will begin to hear the Democratic Party begin to parse what happened in this election. But right now, the overwhelming feeling here is just one of sadness, after what's been a two-year effort -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Candy, you're at Faneuil Hall. Who's going to be the audience there? Is this going to be a speech before a group of supporters? Will it be a news conference? Will he answer reporter's questions? What's the format?

CROWLEY: This was -- this was thrown together at the last moment. Let me just correct you. I'm not at Faneuil Hall at the moment. I'm at their -- what was to be their headquarters last night where we got the briefings. We're not that far from it, five, 10 minutes.

The fact is, they threw this together. He is going to give a speech, a concession speech. John Edwards will be with him. The people, particularly staff, and close friends, and those who had gathered in Boston for what they hoped, last night, would be a victory celebration in Copley Square are now going to Faneuil Hall to hear what he has to say.

BLITZER: All right, Candy, we'll be getting back to you. We're hearing that the Democratic candidate running a little bit late. The speech was scheduled originally around 1 p.m., right around now. We're hearing it's going to be delayed, maybe closer to 2 p.m. We'll, of course, have live coverage of that.

An hour later, 3 p.m. Eastern or so, in Washington, the president will be making his victory speech. We'll have coverage of that as well.

Let's bring in our Judy Woodruff and Bill Schneider and talk about what's going on.

First of all, Bill, the raw vote. We'll put it up on the screen, what we have right now, the percentages for the president and for John Kerry, with almost all the votes in the United States counted right now. Let's get those numbers up on the screen.

They're coming right now. And as we -- Well, maybe they're not coming. But 51 percent...


BLITZER: ... in terms of the general election across the country for the president. That's a majority, and it hasn't happened in a long time.

SCHNEIDER: Hasn't happened since his father in 1988, got a majority against Michael Dukakis. Clinton never got a majority in '92 and '96, and of course Al Gore didn't quite get a majority. He got a plurality, of 48 percent in 2000.

So that is the beginning of a mandate. There's 3.5 million votes. I mean, and that gave legitimacy behind Bush's claim that he legitimately won the election, as opposed to the debate last time, where he won the Electoral College but he did not win the popular vote.

BLITZER: And that mandate, Judy, reinforced by a pick up of seats in the Senate and House of Representatives, a clean sweep if you will, for the Republicans.

WOODRUFF: And that's going to make it a lot easier for President Bush, somewhat easier, I should say. Because the Democrats still will be able to stop significant legislation in the Senate.

But Wolf, I do want to say -- we are talking about a mandate. And it's the first time it's happened in 16 years. But at the same time, 54 million Americans voted the other way. They voted for John Kerry. And we saw in the polls leading up to this election that much of that vote was motivated by a disagreement and, in some cases, a strong feeling against George W. Bush. So this president has some real fence mending to do.

BLITZER: And he's going to presumably, based on history, Judy, he's going to start on that at 3 p.m. Eastern, when he delivers that speech.

WOODRUFF: That's what we're told. I defer to John King and our White House crew on that, but -- but apparently, the White House is already -- they've been already looking at ways they can reach out. And we're going to see that today, I think, in the words of John Kerry, and particularly, the words of the president.

BLITZER: I think we have the -- that technological problem fixed. Let's put up on the screen the vote, the popular vote for president. Right now with 99 percent of the precincts reporting, 51 percent for the president, 48 percent for Kerry, Ralph Nader with one percent.

Bill Schneider, the final polls, the poll of polls that we did, had about a two or three point -- a two-point spread, although none of our CNN/Gallup -- our CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll projected a 49-49 split, all within the margin of error. So as much as people say -- are saying this is a good time to hit the pollsters, the pollsters got pretty close.

SCHNEIDER: Yes. That's right. All the polls -- look, throughout the year, throughout the fall at least, the polls showed Bush with a slight edge in the polls. The final Gallup estimate was 49/49. It turned out to be a three-point edge for Bush. But all the polls had been showing a slight Bush lead.

You know, you have to be cautious with these polls. Polls are always a sample. They are not an absolute projection. They always have a margin of error built in, including an exit poll.

And I fear what happened with the exit poll yesterday is people leapt to conclusions. They put too much faith into what was really a sampling. And it got all over the Internet, and it got out into the campaigns. And of course, you had a lot of Democrats and Republicans who overreacted to what is, in the end, a poll, a sampling. JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST, "INSIDE POLITICS": But isn't it -- isn't it the case, Bill, and Wolf, we've seen these early waves of exit polls...


WOODRUFF: ... have not been necessarily determinative. And yet people want to jump on them, because they're the first little sliver, little shred of evidence, of how the American people have -- have voted.

But it's -- it's dangerous to seize on those numbers...

SCHNEIDER: Absolutely.

WOODRUFF: ... and assume anything. And yet that's what happened yesterday.

BLITZER: You will remember, Judy, that when Bill Schneider briefed all of us here at CNN internally, on those exit polls late in the afternoon, he kept saying, "These are preliminary numbers. These are exit polls. There could be changes. There's a margin of error."

He was very, very precise. And we never went on the air and reported those exit poll numbers, although they did get out, as they always do, on the Internet.

WOODRUFF: Because there's just -- I mean, once information like that is out -- in the world that we live in, the Internet world, where people are e-mailing one another and you can go online at anytime, that kind of information is going to get out there. It was on several web sites.

But I think CNN absolutely did the right thing and the other news organizations who withheld it.

BLITZER: Let's put up on the screen the Electoral College projections right now that we have, 99 percent of the precincts, as we saw, reporting already.

And with those 20 electoral votes that will be going for Bush in Ohio, right now, right now we have Bush at 254, Kerry at 252. We have Ohio at least on the CNN projection still agreeing. That's going to turn red shortly.

There's two other white states: New Mexico with 5, Iowa with 7. We're still waiting for the final results. Both of those states very, very close, Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Yes, that's right. And what's remarkable about that map when Ohio does call blue, as we have called it -- I'm sorry, red, for Bush, as we have called it, it is exactly the same as the 2000 election map, with one exception, and that is New Hampshire, which voted not only for Bush in 2000, voted for Kerry this time.

We don't know about New Mexico and Iowa. Those are very close. Those both voted for Gore in 2000, and they may go for President Bush this time. But other than that, there's very little change from 2000. It's remarkable.

BLITZER: As an interesting footnote, that if the states had the same electoral votes as they had four years ago, if there had been no population shift, then Kerry would have been elected.

Because those five electoral votes, assuming he would Kerry Iowa and New Mexico, we don't know if that -- if he were to carry those two states, he would have had enough -- New Hampshire, in and of itself. That one flip, New Hampshire going from the Republican to the Democrat, would have been enough.

Let's go to Washington. Our Dana Bash, our White House correspondent, is over, getting ready for the Bush victory speech.

Dana, set the scene.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you remember, you and I were talking about 7 1/2, maybe eight hours ago, waiting, we thought, at that time, for President Bush. And we were talking about the fact that this place had really been rocking all night for hours and hours and people had started to sort of leave.

Well, you see behind me, people are coming back, because they know that the president will be here in about an hour and a half. The mood, the tone, is very different. People are exhausted, as everybody is. But certainly, people are very, very excited here, at the Republican headquarters, just as they are, of course, as John King was describing at the White House, the range of emotion there, and of course, over at Bush/Cheney headquarters at the campaign.

And we've certainly been talking about the fact the president is going to come here and make a speech. We are told that he's going to talk about the mandate that he thinks he has. Certainly, will talk about uniting the country, but about the ideas that he has. Unclear how specific he'll get.

But we have to, of course, remember that the president, of course, espoused a very different philosophy from John Kerry on a range of different issues, and we'll certainly be seeing what he'll be doing, particularly on Social Security, on health care, on taxes, in the days to come.

But over at the campaign, Wolf, they're also looking back a little bit and looking at the strategy that they had, particularly on the ground, and sort of patting themselves on the back, if you will, particularly on the ground game.

You know, they realized after four years ago that the Democrats really had the advantage in terms of getting out the vote, and they worked very hard over the past four years to get a very large network of volunteers. And they both said yesterday that they had 1.4 million volunteers across the country.

They say that is a big part of why they were able to do what they did in terms of turnout. So they feel that they essentially were able to beat the Democrats at their own ground game, and they feel very good about that.

BLITZER: Dana Bash, reporting from the Reagan Center in Washington. That's where the president, at 3 p.m. Eastern, approximately, will be delivering his victory speech. We'll be getting back to Dana.

Judy, looking at the politics of how the Bush team, the Republicans, did this, I got -- a lot of people deserve a lot of credit. But you've got to give Karl Rove a tremendous amount of credit. He's going to come down and be seen -- if he wasn't already, as a political genius.

WOODRUFF: Well, that's right. I mean, there's been a fair amount of -- you know, second-guessing, before we knew the results of the election the last few days. People saying, well, Karl Rove's whole philosophy, political philosophy was about, "Let's build on the base. Let's go after the Republicans who believe in President Bush's conservative agenda."

It turns out that worked. It turns out that many American, now we know, a majority of Americans who went to the polls agree with the president's conservative agenda when it comes to tax cuts, when it comes to his conduct with the war in Iraq.

I don't know whether you call that a conservative or a liberal philosophy, but that's what they agree with. They agree with his economic philosophy.

So across the board, they went after the folks who they could energize, and they did energize them.

SCHNEIDER: I'd say Karl Rove is a pretty strong contender for my political play of the week on "INSIDE POLITICS" on Friday.

But look at what -- look at how he did it. He mobilized the base, just as Judy said. He did it with those issues and with social issues, thing like stem cell research, and opposition to same-sex marriage, which they both shared, but also a constitutional amendment, which only President Bush supported. Those are divisive issues.

You energize the base by stressing issues that are seen in terms of us versus them. That is why, when we talk about healing the wounds, you have to recognize the wounds of this campaign run very deep. Democrats are angry. And Republicans feel as if they really got a mandate out there. The country has ended up more divided than ever. Not less.

WOODRUFF: I think there's a real question about how much of a mandate there is. The president did get 51 percent, no doubt about it. And he will get credit for that.

But as Bill said, people feel very strongly about these issues. It's hard to believe that those people who've had misgivings about the war in Iraq are suddenly going to say, "Well, OK, I guess it wasn't such a bad idea after all." It seems to me there's -- there's a fair amount of work to be done now.

BLITZER: Let's go back to the White House. Our senior White House correspondent John King has got some additional information. John, what do you have?

KING: Wolf, want to jump in on the point Judy just made and then move on to an interesting moment here at the White House this morning.

The Bush team will claim a mandate, and they do believe that they quietly went about a much better ground operation, while the Democrats were publicly bragging that they have the better ground operation on election day. They are very proud of that here on the White House.

Karl Rove was stung for years ago. He worked diligently with his aides and deputies in the Republican Party for four long years to put that ground operation together.

On the issue of a mandate, they will claim a mandate. And they believe the American people have embraced the president's agenda. They also believe they did a much better job than Senator Kerry in defining Senator Kerry, especially in the month of August and around the convention time, of raising doubts of his ability to be commander in chief. They believe that was a key juncture in this campaign.

The president's lead slipped on Iraq and terrorism late in the campaign, but they believe they established such a lead over Senator Kerry in the late summer months that they were able to withstand his offensive in the end.

An interesting point here this morning. This president's politics, so shaped by the loss of his father back in 1992. You're talking about the president's conservative base.

What they often say about the president's father around here -- and he is a revered figure -- is that everybody liked him; nobody loved him. Go to a Bush rally for this president, the conservative base of this party loves this president. That was their strategy from the beginning.

And when Mr. Bush went to the Oval Office this morning, not sure yet whether Senator Kerry would call and concede, he had a special guest with him. The 41st president of the United States, his father, took the walk over from the residence -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Remind our viewers, John. Last night, or in the early hours of the morning, well past the president's bedtime, and as you reminded us, about 10 p.m. normally is when he goes to sleep. But in the hours 3, 4 a.m., they were still seriously thinking of bringing him over to the Reagan Center to declare victory.

But in the end that changed. What happened?

KING: In the end, they decided to wait, because they view governing and claiming the mandate is so important, trying to unite the country is so important, they did not want to antagonize Democrats, even though they believed the math was overwhelmingly in their favor.

When Ohio was not called by the major news networks, and when New Mexico was held out and not called by the major news networks, they decided not to be confrontational, not to be controversial in claiming victory. Although the chief of staff certainly said in his address to those Bush supporters that they believed they were victorious and that they had won the election.

They simply made a decision in the end to take a longer-term view, looking more toward governing in January, than winning in November.

But you will hear the president quite optimistically, but also quite confidently today, claim that mandate.

As for him staying up past his bedtime, he does like to go to bed around 10 p.m. He usually gets up around 5 a.m. This president was calling aides over to the residence. A couple of times he came over from the residence and popped into Karl Rove's office.

He was asking what precincts are still out in places like Iowa and new Mexico, looking hands on at the detail, down to the very county and precinct level, of what votes were still out and whether, in the end, the election would go his way or perhaps if there was a possibility to go back the other way.

BLITZER: John King at the White House, thanks very much. We'll get back to you.

Want to show our viewers a picture of Beacon Hill, the townhouse where John Kerry and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, where they live. They're inside. We're waiting for them to emerge from the doors, get into that motorcade, make the short drive to Faneuil Hall, where John Kerry will make his concession speech. That's coming up. We will, of course, have live coverage of that.

And following that, around 3 p.m. Eastern, live coverage of the president and his victory speech at the Reagan Center in Washington, D.C.

That's Faneuil Hall, historic Faneuil Hall in Boston.

Much more coverage of this historic day here in the United States right after a short break.


BLITZER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of this historic day. We're standing by to hear from John Kerry his concession speech.

That's a live picture of his townhouse on Beacon Hill in Boston. He'll emerge there shortly, make the short drive over to historic Faneuil Hall to deliver that speech. We're standing by for live coverage of that. Later, the president, around 3 p.m. Eastern, about an hour and a half or so from now, scheduled to deliver his victory speech a short drive from the White House, at the Reagan Center in Washington, D.C. Extensive live coverage of that as well.

Throughout this historic day, we'll be talking to all of our reporters, all of our analysts, to make sure that you have all the updated information. John Kerry conceding his race for the White House.

In the meantime, let's go to the CNN Center in Atlanta. Miles O'Brien, Kyra Phillips, picking up our coverage.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you very much, Wolf. They don't call him the iron man for nothing. Wolf is still going.

PHILLIPS: He never sleeps.

O'BRIEN: He never does.

Mixed reaction today to some of the controversial initiatives on several state ballots.

In California, supporters of stem cell research are applauding a decision to allocate $3 billion in taxpayer money toward that research. The initiative supported by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, breaking ranks with the Republicans.

In Alaska, a proposition to legalize marijuana went -- well, shall we say up in smoke? The measure would have allowed anyone to use or sell the drug. Proponents say they aren't giving up.

And voters have spoken on the issue of same-sex marriage. Eleven states overwhelmingly voted to keep gay and lesbian couples from marrying.

PHILLIPS: Well, with President Bush returning to the White House, we know where the executive branch stands now. Now to Democratic losses in the legislative branch, like Tom Daschle's Senate seat.

CNN's Thomas Roberts joining us now in Washington to talk about shifts in the balance of power in both houses of Congress.

Hi, Thomas.

THOMAS ROBERTS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kyra, good afternoon to you.

November 2 going into the history books. A huge night across the board for Republicans. They take a tighter grip on both the House and the Senate.

Now, the biggest gains are in the South, a clean sweep for Republicans, picking up all five seats left open by Democrats in the Senate. And a first in Louisiana, voters there electing a Republican, David Vitter, to the Senate.

Virginia Republican George Allen, he hailed the defeat of Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle.


REP. GEORGE ALLEN (R), VIRGINIA: We were able, with John Thune, to win in South Dakota, knocking off the Democrat leader, chief obstructionist, first time in 52 years. And in Louisiana, we made history, and David Vitter, the first Republican ever elected in Louisiana. South Carolina and Georgia, first-time ever two Republican senators from those states. So a lot of great history.


ROBERTS: Texas, a continued strong hold for Republicans. A redistricting map there helped them wipe out at least five Democrats in the House, including longtime Representative Martin Frost and Charles Stenholm.

And Americans can expect an aggressive Republican agenda: more tax cuts, conservative judges, tort reform and opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling.

One of the few bright spots, though, for the Democrats, a name we've become very familiar with this year, Barak Obama. Obama was easily elected to the U.S. Senate from Illinois, becoming only the fifth African-American to serve in that chamber.

This morning, Obama talked to CNN about the outcome of the presidential race on "AMERICAN MORNING."


BARAK OBAMA (D), SENATOR-ELECT, ILLINOIS: The president has one of the best political teams ever constructed. They ran an extraordinarily effective campaign. I think that people are concerned about the prospect of the war in Iraq. But they're also concerned with whether we should change presidents in the midst of that war. And I think that all those factors have come into play.


ROBERTS: Democrats in Washington turn their concerns now to who's going to replace Tom Daschle as Senate minority leader. Two names are being talked about as contenders for this. There's Harry Reed of Nevada and Chris Dodd of Connecticut.

And finally, two seats remain undecided at this hour in the U.S. House of Representatives. One in Louisiana, where the winner of a December runoff is going to be heading to Washington. The other in Georgia, Kyra, where the Democrat is leading, but the race remains too close to call. So we wait on that one.

PHILLIPS: All right. I remember covering Louisiana politics. It gets pretty crazy sometimes there in the big easy. ROBERTS: That's true.

PHILLIPS: Thanks so much, Thomas Roberts.

ROBERTS: Absolutely. Take care.

PHILLIPS: All right -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Well, on Wall Street, they hate uncertainty. And generally speaking, they love candidates from the Grand Old Party. End result, a rally today. Rhonda Schaffler here to tell us about that.

Hello, Rhonda.



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