Republican jitters turn to celebration as President wrests victory

For the hardcore Republican faithful gathered in the capital of the country, the moment of euphoric confirmation came at precisely 12.41am.

For the hardcore Republican faithful gathered in the capital of the country, the moment of euphoric confirmation came at precisely 12.41am.

In the bowels of the Ronald Reagan building, where the party was holding its "victory rally", Fox News, which was being shown on huge video monitors, saidit was calling the state of Ohio for the President.

Suddenly, instantly, the already noisy and ebullient party turned into an extraordinary roaring mass of people cheering, kissing, hugging and punching the air. Having secured Florida about an hour earlier, this was the development they knew would secure George Bush another four years in the White House, located just a few quiet streets away.

One young couple, their fresh faces beaming with delight, and with wide smiles, posed for photographs taken against the backdrop of the television screen upon which the magical numbers from the state were flashing.

"He [Mr Bush] has been a great leader," said Carolyn Damschen, 21, an intern at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think-tank, as people around her continued to scream with glee. "He has improved the economy and made more jobs with his tax cuts." Her fiancé, Brian Wise, 25, was equally thrilled by the prospect of another four years of a Bush administration.

"This just ensures we are going in the right direction and that we're recovering from the 9-11 attacks," he said.

There was not always such an abundance of young, joyous emotion on Tuesday evening as several hundred Republican officials, supporters and volunteers packed together to watch the results of the 2004 election slowly drip in from across the 50 states.

Initially, a series of early exit polls picked up by the major television networks and the internet suggested that the Democrats were gathering momentum in the key battleground states of Florida and Ohio and that they might get their noses ahead of the Republicans. Could it be that Mr Bush, sitting in the White House with his family, might be forced to come to the party and give a concession speech rather than the victory delivery they were all so eagerly and feverishly anticipating? As the evening wore on, so it became apparent that this group of true believers would be saved from such a scenario. Gradually the numbers on the big screens started rising even higher; the total number of projected electoral votes in Mr Bush's column steadily grew as the map of the country increasingly turned blue. The numbers for John Kerry, the challenger, did not seem to budge.

"Before I got here I was quite worried but now I am more confident," said 18-year-old Eric Martin, a student from Houston, Texas, standing with some fellow students from George Washington University, listening to a series of country and western bands that were entertaining the crowd. "Fifteen minutes ago I thought it was going to be close but now I think Bush is winning." Indeed Mr Bush appeared to be doing just that, as Gerald Willis and his wife, Frances, sat in a room away from the band watching a different bank of screens. The couple were from north-east Alabama but lived in Washington because of Mr Willis' job as an official with the Department of Agriculture.

Mr Willis said he was confident that Mr Bush would win across the country. "I have been travelling all year and I have noticed how things are," he said, in a deep and delightful southern accent.

Quite what Mr Bush thought of all of this was not clear. At some point during the evening a snippet of pooled video footage was released showing the President sitting at the White House with members of his family, including his father, presumably watching the same bank of television screens that everybody else was watching. Mr Bush's deputy, Dick Cheney, did after all, recently reveal that he was quite a fan of Fox News.

"I'm very upbeat. I believe I am going to win," said a grinning Mr Bush. "It's going to be an exciting evening." Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, said that before coming to the party he had spent the earlier part of the evening in the West Wing of the White House where reports suggested Mr Bush was very relaxed about the ongoing developments. "The President has won the trust of the American people," he said. "[People think that] with the president what you see is what you get."

Next door in the packed ballroom, the happy crowd was getting more country music and more encouraging numbers, all of which were cheered even if it was merelya projected victory in a state such as Montana that had never been in doubt. Taking encouragement from the noisy crowd, the band launched into upbeat number with the sing-along line "Give me a T for Texas".

And if that was not enough, the band tried out the old Woody Guthrie song "This Land Is Your Land". One can only imagine what the late Mr Guthrie, a lifelong socialist and trade union supporter, would have thought of his song of opportunity and egalitarianism being played to a crowd of roaring neo-conservatives who had spent the evening cheering Mr Bush's pre-emptive strike against Iraq and his devotion to tax cuts.

"This land is your land, this land is my land, from California to the New York Island, from the redwood forest, to the Gulf stream waters, This land was made for you and me."

But as the band played and the crowd sang along, one realised that from the perspective of the people packed into the sweaty ballroom the words of the song had come true. California might have been won by Mr Kerry but elsewhere huge swaths of the country had been secured by Mr Bush and the Republicans.

From where they were looking, this land really did belong to them.

This is an edited extract of the speech by George Bush after his re-election

The voters turned out in record numbers and delivered an historic victory. Earlier today, Senator Kerry called with his congratulations. We had a really good phone call. He was very gracious.

Senator Kerry waged a spirited campaign, and he and his supporters can be proud of their efforts. Laura and I wish [him] and Teresa and their whole family all our best wishes.

America has spoken, and I'm humbled by the trust and the confidence of my fellow citizens. With that trust comes a duty to serve all Americans. And I will do my best to fulfill that duty every day.

There are many people to thank and my family comes first. Laura is the love of my life. I want to thank our daughters who joined their dad for his last campaign. I appreciate the hard work of my sister and brothers. I want to thank my parents for their loving support. I'm grateful to the vice-president and Lynne and their daughters who have worked so hard. The vice-president serves America with wisdom and honour and I'm proud to serve beside him. I want to thank my superb campaign team... for your hard work.

I want to thank the thousands of supporters across our country ...for everything you did to make the calls and to put up the signs, to talk to neighbours and to get out the vote. And because you did the incredible work, we are celebrating today.

There is an old saying, "Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks".

In four historic years, America has been given great tasks and faced them with strength and courage. Our people have restored the vigour of this economy and shown resolve and patience in a new kind of war. Our military has brought justice to the enemy and honour to America. Our nation has defended itself and served the freedom of mankind. I'm proud to lead such an amazing country, and I'm proud to lead it forward.

Because we have done the hard work, we are entering a season of hope. We will continue our economic progress. We'll reform our outdated tax code. We'll strengthen the Social Security for the next generation. We'll make public schools all they can be. And we will uphold our values of family and faith.

We'll help the emerging democracies of Iraq and Afghanistan ... so they can grow in strength and defend their freedom. And then our service men and women will come home with the honour they have earned. With good allies, we will fight this war on terror with every resource of our national power so our children can live in freedom and in peace.

Reaching these goals will require the broad support of Americans. So today I want to speak to every person who voted for my opponent. To make this nation stronger and better, I will need your support and I will work to earn it.

A new term is a new opportunity to reach out to the whole nation. We have one country, one Constitution, and one future that binds us. And when we work together, there is no limit to the greatness of America.

I will always be grateful to the good people of [Texas] And whatever the road that lies ahead, that road will take me home.

The campaign has ended, and the United States of America goes forward with confidence and faith. I see a great day coming for our country and I am eager for the work ahead. God bless you and may God bless America."

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