Staff and Wire Reports
BOSTON - Sen. John Kerry brought his long White House campaign to an end Wednesday, conceding the presidential election to George W. Bush and saying the time had come to "begin the healing."
"I'm sorry that we got here a little bit late and a little bit short," said a hoarse and stoic Kerry, noting that he had called Bush earlier at the White House and said they had a "good conversation."
"In America, it is vital that every vote count ? but the outcome should be decided by voters, not a protracted legal fight," Kerry said. "I would not give up this fight if there was a chance that we would prevail."
But Kerry also said that "there won't be enough outstanding votes for us to win Ohio, and therefore we cannot win this election."
"In this journey, you have given me the honor and the gift of learning from you," the senator said.
"I'm going to fight on for the people and the principles that I've stood for," said Kerry, who returns to the Senate to complete his term. Friends and admirers who joined him, running mate John Edwards and their families applauded lovingly during his 15-minute speech at this city's historic Faneuil Hall.
In Clayton County, where the Kerry-Edwards ticket received more than 71 percent of the vote, Democratic supporters lamented Kerry's concession and delved into the anxiety over what another four years with Bush would bring.
"I think we're going to learn the hard way," said Dexter Matthews, the president for the Clayton County branch of the NAACP. "I'm kind of worried about what's going to happen."
Gail Davenport, a Clayton County delegate to the Democratic national convention, said she thought Kerry conceded too soon.
"I'm still waiting to see what has happened in Ohio," she said.
While expressing their disappointment, the two Democratic supporters allowed for something positive, saying the election went smoother than in 2000.
"It went much better," Matthews said. "We don't want to go through that again."
Local Republican leader, Ben Collins, who recently became chairman of the Clayton County Republican Party, said he was pleased with outcome both statewide and nationally.
"We are thrilled to death about Bush's re-election," he said. "We firmly believe that the President will continue to lead us in the context of the war on terror globally and the economy domestically."
Preceding Kerry's speech in Boston, Edwards said, "well, it was a long night and a long morning. ... We will continue to fight for every vote. We know every vote matters in our America and we will honor each and every one of you. We didn't start fighting for you when this campaign began and we won't stop fighting for you when this campaign ends."
The two had gathered earlier at Kerry's Beacon Hill home. His two-year campaign for the White House ended abruptly with the loss of the make-or-break state of Ohio in a close election.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who campaigned heavily for Kerry over the past year, entered Kerry's house Wednesday morning with his wife, Victoria. Also spotted going inside were David Thorne, Kerry's longtime friend and former brother-in-law, stepson Andre Heinz, and brother Cameron Kerry.
Kerry called Bush shortly before 11 a.m. to concede defeat after his campaign determined Ohio was out of reach.
"Congratulations, Mr. President," Kerry said.
Hours earlier, Kerry huddled inside his home with advisers while running mate John Edwards addressed the nation from Copley Square. Both Democrats had campaigned until the last minute, mindful of the close finish four years ago.
"We've waited four years for this victory, we can wait one more night," Edwards, standing outside on a cold, drizzly night, told supporters still awake in the wee hours of the morning.
Advisers later said the campaign just wanted one last look at the uncounted ballots in Ohio, where Bush held a 136,000-vote advantage. The state's 20 electoral votes sealed victory for Bush.
In 2000, Bush sweated out a 36-day recount before a Supreme Court ruling awarded him Florida and the White House.
Kerry spent the campaign's final weeks going after Bush with a steady stream of criticism over his decision to wage war in Iraq and his push for costly tax cuts the Democrat said were irresponsible.
The four-term Massachusetts senator worked to tap into voters' pessimistic frame of mind, evident in exit polls, which showed them worried about new terrorist attacks, job losses and the war in Iraq.
The Democrat seized on three televised debates as his best opportunity to make these arguments to his largest audience, and his support ticked up after he delivered three solid performances.
This story was compiled by reporting by Justin Boron and The Associated Press.