Bush: 'I've got the energy, the optimism and the enthusiasm to cross the finishing line'

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The Independent US

Four years ago when George Bush was the governor of Texas he spent election day in Austin, awaiting the outcome in the governor's mansion. Yesterday, as the incumbent President, he left his Texas ranch in Crawford to return to Washington and wait in the White House for the political endgame to play out.

Four years ago when George Bush was the governor of Texas he spent election day in Austin, awaiting the outcome in the governor's mansion. Yesterday, as the incumbent President, he left his Texas ranch in Crawford to return to Washington and wait in the White House for the political endgame to play out.

Predictably enough, Mr Bush's campaign during this election was structured around his status as the incumbent and this time around he was not the challenger looking to beat a man who had spent the past four years as vice-president. Instead, he asked the country - challenged it - to judge him on his record during the four years he had spent at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Yesterday, even as voters were casting their ballots, Mr Bush again sought to remind people of his record. Stopping en route to Washington at Columbus, Ohio, the very heart of one of this year's political battlegrounds, he said both he and his rival, John Kerry, could be pleased to have fought as hard a campaign a possible.

"I have made the differences as clear as possible ... why I think that I'm the best leader for the country for the next four years," he said. "We'll wait for what the American people think."

He said that since voting in Crawford yesterday morning and then boarding Air Force One, the presidential plane, for the return journey to Washington he had "drunk a couple of cups of coffee and spent some quality time with my wife".

"I'm going to run this race out to its fullest." For any sitting president, the re-election campaign is to a greater extent a referendum on the success or failure of the first term. In the case of Mr Bush's father, once soaring in the polls in the aftermath of the1991 Gulf War, the American public was left unconvinced by a faltering economy and a candidate who seemed a little out of touch. This, matched with an energetic challenger in the form of Bill Clinton, and the vote-splitting presence of the independent challenger Ross Perot, was enough to ensure Mr Bush Snr would only be a one-term president.

More than a decade later, in the aftermath of the attacks of 11 September and the war in Afghanistan, the present President's personal approval also rocketed - touching the dizzy 90 per cent level that his father obtained. But three years on, after the war in Iraq, the revelations over false claims about the existence of weapons of mass destruction and with an economy that has spluttered and failed to create net jobs, Mr Bush's rating now hovers around the 50 per cent mark - traditionally a dangerously low level for a sitting president.

While the Republicans were quick to criticise Mr Kerry's record and portray him - often falsely - as a "flip-flopper", Mr Bush and his chief strategist, Karl Rove, placed Mr Bush's record at the centre of the re-election campaign.

This was certainly a risk. As it became clear this summer that even the government's own survey group would report that no weapons of mass destruction could be found, strategists in the White House considered some sort of acknowledgement by the President that all was not as he had predicted.

That strategy was put aside. In the end, Mr Bush emerged in the final weeks and months of this campaign as a man who was unwilling to concede that mistakes were made, a man who showed few signs of self-doubt and a man with a spiritual belief that it is his destiny to lead the country.

It is as though Mr Bush has had a faith-based belief in his right - more, perhaps, his duty - to lead the country.

On his final day of campaigning, a seven-stop journey in six states, his resolve remained firm. "Ultimately this election comes down to, who do you trust? Who do you trust to make the tough decisions? Who do you trust to lead this country to a better tomorrow?" he said in Milwaukee, using language that brought to mind some of the speeches made by Ronald Reagan.

At a rally at Pittsburgh airport, he told supporters that he was confident he was going to win. "I just want to assure you I've got the energy, the optimism and the enthusiasm to cross the line," he said.

On that long final day of campaigning - almost certainly Mr Bush's last day of campaigning in his life - the President passed the time on Air Force One playing a rolling game of gin rummy with Mr Rove and other aides.

In Milwaukee Mr Rove picked up vanilla milk shakes for Mr Bush and his senior staff.

Throughout it all, Mr Bush remained on message. Late on Monday night his team flew to a rally in Dallas, Texas, before the president made his way to Crawford. When Mr Bush first ran for governor of Texas 10 years ago it was in Dallas that he ended his campaign.

He told the crowd: "It's great to be back where it all started. We had to do this again for good luck." The crowd, naturally enough, roared its support. The latest polls place Mr Bush at a 58-36 advantage over Mr Kerry here.

After this final flurry, it was election day itself. Mr Bush was up early in Crawford where, accompanied by his wife, he went to cast his vote at the local polling station in the town's fire station.

"I believe I'm going to win. My hope, of course, is that this election ends tonight," he told reporters. "I wish [Mr Kerry] all the best. He and I are in the exact same position ... I'm sure he's happy, like I am, that the campaign is over."

With that it was once again onto Air Force One for the flight eastwards, first to Ohio and from there to Washington where the presidential plane touched down on a glorious autumnal day at Andrews Air Force base, just south of the city.

The route for Mr Bush's motorcade from Andrews to the White House was just a few miles. He was back in the President's official residence by early afternoon, waiting with his family and his closest advisers, waiting to see whether his strategy had succeeded.

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