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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 November, 2004, 15:19 GMT
How gloom descended on Kerry's bid
Bridget Kendall
By Bridget Kendall
BBC correspondent in Boston

Late afternoon on US presidential election day and the mood at Copley Square in the heart of Boston was electric, buzzing with anticipation.

On a specially-constructed stage, Sheryl Crow was strumming a guitar, rehearsing one of her best known numbers.

Man wearing 'Kerry wins!' t-shirt
Hopes for a Kerry victory were washed away as the night wore on
Sound systems were being tested for an expected John Kerry victory speech in the presidential candidate's home town.

Chairs were being putting out in readiness, while beyond the security fence, good humoured supporters jostled for a better view, many waving placards, many sporting Kerry badges.

New England's glorious autumn weather - blue skies and a golden glow - had given way to low cloud and the threat of drizzle. But that did not dampen the exuberance of the waiting hopeful.

Infectious optimism

Along the rows of waiting TV journalists, campaign advisers stalked, beaming broadly, as though holding a wonderful secret.

"Is there going to be a clear result tonight?" I asked one of them.

I know Kerry was trying to be tolerant, but in my heart I feel George W Bush's values are closer to mine
Hotel cleaner
"Yep," he answered.

"And will it be Kerry?"

"Yep," he said. "Last time was a fluke. This time all the indications we're getting are making us smile."

The optimism was infectious, reinforced time and again into the evening.

"We're very encouraged," said John Kerry's sister, smiling serenely.

"Don't look so sceptical," said Robert Reich, a former labour secretary in the Clinton administration.

"The high (voter) turn out is helping us," he added, fighting to be heard as the band The Black Eyed Peas belted out yet another hit song on the stage behind him.

"We've won Pennsylvania. Ohio and the Midwest are looking good."

Mr Reich was convinced those who had suffered economically in the last four years in former rust belt states were rallying to the Democratic side.

But still the critical battleground states had not been called.

Instead we heard that lines of voters were still waiting in Ohio and Florida to cast their ballots.

Then, as we settled in for a long wait, the rain came.

Veiled anxiety

John Kerry
A defeated Kerry endured a rollercoaster night
With hindsight, it was an appropriate turn in the weather. But the shift in the political atmosphere was harder to pinpoint.

Perhaps it was when the chairman of the Democratic National Committee ran on stage, promising in one breath that "the announcement of President John Kerry would not be far off", and in the next, urging those who had friends in Ohio who hadn't yet cast a vote to stay in line and make their ballot count.

It was the first note of veiled anxiety.

By the time one US TV network called Florida for President George W Bush, there was open consternation and confusion.

Suddenly there was not a Democratic spokesman to be found. The drizzle turned into a downpour. On stage, a mournful ballad by James Taylor seemed to match the change in ambience.

Under their umbrellas, Kerry supporters stood wet and cold, grimly determined. A faint chant went up: "We want John Kerry."

But the latest news was disheartening: Ohio was too close to call. Elsewhere - with the exception of New Hampshire - Bush was holding on to the states he had taken four years ago, and Republicans had increased their grip on both the House and Senate in Congress.

When John Kerry's running mate John Edwards came on stage at around 0230 local time to claim "the fight would go on", his buoyant words fired up the bedraggled crowd.

But it soon became clear the point of his short speech was to signal the night was over.

Technicians came on to turn off the lights. Discarded placards lay dormant on the ground.

The night's early hopes had been drowned comprehensively.

Searching for answers

So why was it that the Kerry camp was so confident and yet so wrong about a possible victory?

Sheryl Crow provided one of the few high notes for Kerry's supporters

Even in this liberal state of Massachusetts, in Kerry's home town of Boston, I have been struck at the reaction of locals.

One man who voted for Kerry said he could appreciate why other Americans did not feel confident Kerry could have provided sure leadership in these insecure times when the US is "at war with terrorism", as they put it.

"We never really knew what Kerry stood for," he said. "And maybe Bush is right that we shouldn't criticise the path of war in Iraq or Afghanistan, in case the enemy just thinks we are weak."

But perhaps even more telling was the conversation with a young black woman I met, a cleaner in my hotel.

She too had voted for Kerry - no surprise when nearly 90% of African-Americans across the nation backed him.

Yet even she was not wholehearted in her support for him.

"In some ways I think Bush was closer to me," she said. " On gay marriage and abortion, I know Kerry was trying to be tolerant, but in my heart I feel George W Bush's values are closer to mine."

This, from a young black woman in the liberal state of Massachusetts.

The analysis of what the election tells us about the way this country is going will continue for sometime.

But it's hard to ignore the possibility that this rollercoaster night of results - ending in a mandate which gives President Bush the first clear majority for a US president since 1988 - might mean a historic turning point, both for where the United States is heading, and for the rest of the world.

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