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As the night wore on, Bush officials spoke informally to the Kerry camp, urging Kerry to concede. Kerry advisers replied that their candidate would come to his own conclusion in good time. Undeterred, Mehlman reached out to John McCain's advisers, trying to get the Arizona Senator to call on Kerry to give in. McCain's advisers said Kerry would come to the decision on his own, as he ultimately did.
Shortly after dawn, Kerry advisers gathered one last time to go over the Ohio math. By 9:30, the conclusion was clear: Kerry simply did not have the numbers. Campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill called Kerry at his town house. Within 10 minutes, he had called her back to say he agreed. At 11 a.m., Kerry called Bush to concede. He congratulated the President and urged him to unify the country. Bush called Kerry "an admirable and worthy opponent."
What finally swayed those near mythical voters who managed to make it until Tuesday without making up their minds? The weight that voters attached to values suggests that Rove's single-minded attention to the goal of turning out 4 million more evangelical voters than in 2000 may have paid off. On the other hand, there were voters like Jeffrey Wilson, 21, a student at the University of South Florida in Tampa, a gay Catholic raised in a conservative family but registered as a Democrat, who finally went with Bush. It wasn't the war that mattered. "I think they're both for stepping things up and cleaning up the mess we've created," he said. Instead it was a matter of character. "I just don't feel that I really trust John Kerry to do what he says he's going to do." For Andrea Levin, 39, of Seattle, who voted for Al Gore in 2000, it was the return of Osama bin Laden, who released a videotape taunting Bush four days before Election Day, that made the difference. "When he made his presentation, looking all spiffed up, and condemned the President's foreign policy, I saw that as a clear sign that I should vote for Bush."
Historians will have an easy time arguing that the race was always Bush's to lose; he scarcely ever ran behind, from Labor Day on. A country will seldom discharge a Commander in Chief during wartime, particularly one who had sustained a higher level of approval for longer than any modern U.S. President. Economist Ray Fair devised a model that weighs inflation and growth rates, and by his formula, Bush looked on track to win 58% of the popular vote. And he was running against a New England Senator so stiff, he creaked, when no non-Southern Democrat has won in 44 years.