Covering the Concession: How Newspapers are Analyzing the End of the Presidential Race

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By: E&P Staff

Sen. John Kerry’s unexpected concession phone call to President Bush this morning caught reporters somewhat off guard, but the press quickly rallied to get out some instant analysis.

Washington Post reporters Dan Balz and Mike Allen managed a telephone interview with Kerry advisor Joe Lockhart, who said the campaign concluded that there were not enough provisional ballots in Ohio to swing the election to the Democrat.

The New York Times’ Web analysis piece, by Todd S. Purdum, asserted that Kerry’s loss was of his own making: “Any success for Mr. Bush was also very much Mr. Kerry’s failure. If Mr. Bush struggled all year to post job approval ratings of 50 percent or better, a classic danger sign for an incumbent, Mr. Kerry failed all year to open a clear lead in the national polls.

“Mr. Kerry was counting on millions of first-time Democratic voters to carry him through, and millions apparently did turn out, but probably not enough to make the difference.”

Purdum also pondered things to come from Bush’s second term. “If even a one-vote margin is a mandate, as John F. Kennedy once said, what might a real mandate look like for Mr. Bush? Will he pursue his course undaunted, whatever the opposition may do? Or once again seek, as he promised four years ago, to change the tone’ in Washington, and reach out to the one-quarter of voters in the electorate who described themselves as angry at his administration?”

In the president’s home state, the Houston Chronicle featured a photo of a smiling Bush on the phone over its concession story online. Writing from Boston, reporter John Frank summed up the victory this way: “President Bush won a second term from a divided and anxious nation, his promise of steady, strong wartime leadership trumping John Kerry’s fresh-start approach to Iraq and joblessness.”

In Kerry’s hometown, The Boston Globe seemed almost to be in denial, as its Web site continued to carry the headline “NOT OVER YET” even just 10 minutes before Kerry’s scheduled 2 p.m. concession speech Wednesday. At that late hour, it still hadn’t posted wire reports of Kerry’s 11 a.m. concession phone call to Bush.

The Web site of The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J., similary carried no word of Kerry’s concession.

The Washington Post’s Jim Vandehei, speaking on MSNBC, said that Kerry had never adequately explained the basis for his candidacy and exactly why he was running. Noting that the promised huge turnout in the youth vote only partly materialized, he said that history has shown that any candidate who relies in the youth vote to win is doomed.

In The Arizona Republic, columnist Laurie Roberts expressed relief at the election’s end. She wrote, “You’ll know the election is over when Dan Rather stashes away his phony documents and CBS stashes away its phony newsman. When John Kerry has Teresa return that nice new hunting jacket to Sears. When George Bush vows to never, ever, ever again engage in debate. Which shouldn’t be too hard to pull off, given his penchant for surrounding himself with people who agree with him.”

“Will we be led?” was the repeated question in an online column by the Detroit Free Press’ Mitch Albom, who stressed the need for Americans to put partisanship aside in the wake of the election if we are to move forward as a united nation.

“Four more years of this kind of division and we will be on the brink of a philosophical civil war,” Albom wrote on the Free Press’ Web site. “The bottom won’t hold. The nation is dizzy enough already.”

Of course, some papers had already acknowledged Bush’s victory for this morning’s editions. In an analysis filed before Kerry’s concession, Marc Sandalow, the Washington bureau chief for the San Francisco Chronicle — which, with its later, West Coast deadline could afford to be certain about the results — wrote that Bush’s election was “a momentous victory, but inconsequential mandate for the first president in history to win re-election after first losing the popular vote.”

The nation remained deeply divided, Sandalow wrote. “Four tumultuous years have brought catastrophic terrorist attacks, two wars and an economic roller coaster, yet the nation’s political divisions seem to have hardly budged since the last presidential election,” he wrote. “As sunrise approached on the East Coast, only one state — New Hampshire — had produced a different result from four years ago, leaving the divide between red and blue states almost entirely unchanged.”

Likewise in Nevada, a battleground state to the end, where, as Wednesday dawned, it became apparent that it no longer mattered whether the Silver State turned red or blue.

In the Las Vegas Review-Journal, reporter Erin Neff noted that the race in Nevada had all the elements of a Florida-like finish — a tight lead that flipped back and forth through the night, 50,000 ballots that election machines were unable to process, an array of partisan lawyers — except for one: suspense. “Nevada stayed true to its battleground form, but its close presidential result will not likely determine the victor,” she wrote in story filed before the Kerry concession.

The Bush campaign, she noted, spent an estimated $15 million on advertising in Nevada, and Kerry more than $9 million. Neff quoted the Republican chairman for Las Vegas’ Clark County as saying all the attention of the two campaigns would pay off for the state. “It will help us in the future,” said the chairman, Brian Scroggins. “When you get a chance to make a connection with politicians on the national level, it’s a positive thing.”

Foreign countries had nearly as much stake in the election as the United States did, and the Web sites of newspapers abroad reflected the same urgency and curiosity.

In Mexico City, the respected broadsheet El Universal posted news of Kerry’s concession based on television reports. The story appeared next to an analysis piece titled, “Who is George W. Bush?” The portrait painted is not exactly flattering: “He arrived at the White House on Jan. 20, 2001 with a promise of ‘unifying, not dividing’ his nation; after three years, the result is exactly the contrary.”

The Irish Independent updated its Web site with breaking news of the Kerry concession at 5 p.m. Dublin time, but its analysis was from the morning’s paper, published when the election was still too close to call. The Independent called it a “tense and testy” election. More arguable was its analysis that “a victory for Mr. Kerry in New Jersey augured well for him.”

The Korean Central News Agency, run by the North Korean dictatorship, completely ignored the election in its Web site, www.kcna.co.jp. Wednesday’s headlines instead included “Seminar on Leader Kim Jong Il’s Famous Work Held in India” and “‘Evening of Korea’ in Poland.”

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