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President Bush wins re-election; exit polls show values voters made the difference

WASHINGTON (BP)–Faith and morality played major roles Nov. 2 as American voters re-elected President Bush, expanded the Republican Party’s advantage in Congress and approved amendments to protect marriage in 11 states.

The close and contentious battle for the White House came to an end the morning of Nov. 3, when Democrat nominee John Kerry conceded the election in a phone call to Bush. Kerry’s concession came amid some Democrats’ hopes they might still be able to come up with enough votes to win in Ohio, which had been the key battleground state throughout the night and early morning. Ohio, though, put Bush over the top.

By 3 p.m. Eastern time, the president had been credited with 274 electoral votes, four more than necessary, with two states — Iowa and New Mexico — still too close to call.

Bush address supporters, and the nation, in a mid-afternoon speech.

“I want to thank the thousands of our supporters across our country,” he said. “I want to thank you for your hugs on the rope lines. I want to thank you for your prayers on the rope lines. I want to thank you for your kind words on the rope lines. I want to thank you for everything you did to make the calls and to put up the signs, to talk to your neighbors and to get out the vote. And because you did the incredible work, we are celebrating today.

“There’s 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 vigor of this economy and shown resolve and patience in a new kind of war. Our military has brought justice to the enemy, and honor to America. Our nation has defended itself and served the freedom of all mankind. I’m proud to lead such an amazing country, and I’m proud to lead it forward.”

Kerry said he called Bush earlier in the day to concede and to congratulate the president.

“We talked about the division in our country and the need, desperate need, for unity,” Kerry told supporters. “… Today, I hope we can begin the healing.”

In the Senate, Republicans increased their majority by as many as four seats, while in the House, the GOP picked up at least two districts.

The results in the presidential and congressional races –- as well as the sweep of 11 state initiatives barring same-sex “marriage” -– provided encouragement for some pro-life and pro-family gains in the next two to four years. That appeared to be on the minds of a significant portion of this year’s voters.

According to nationwide exit polling by the National Election Pool, 22 percent of voters cited “moral values” as the most important issue in their decision on the presidential race. Of those, 79 percent chose Bush, 18 percent Kerry and 2 percent Nader. The morality issue was the top issue, surpassing the economy, 20 percent; terrorism, 19 percent; and Iraq, 15 percent.

According to that same data, 22 percent of voters were identified as white, evangelical/born-again Christians. Of those, 77 percent voted for Bush, 22 percent for Kerry and 1 percent for independent Ralph Nader.

“The faith factor was the difference in this election,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Even The New York Times acknowledged that the faith factor was determinative.

Not only did more than three-fourths of evangelicals vote for Bush, but “a whole lot more of them voted” than in 2000, Land said. “[Ohio Secretary of State] Ken Blackwell estimated that 25 percent of Bush’s raw vote in Ohio came from white evangelicals.
“Because people of faith voted their values, their beliefs and their convictions, we have for the first time since 1988 a president who won a majority of the popular vote,” Land said. “Bush is the first war-time president in modern history to not only win but to increase his majority in the House and the Senate.”

Former Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer called it the “year of the values voter.”

“The upsets in the Senate and House races and the 11 marriage amendments showed that no matter where you lived, people came out to support the kind of values that founded and built this great nation,” Bauer, president of American Values, said in a written statement.

“For too long, liberal political pundits have been telling us that issues like marriage and life divide us as a people,” Bauer said. “But it’s clear that while those issues may be controversial, they are not divisive because people reach across such boundaries as party, economic status and ethnic group to join together to support and protect the American family.”

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said in a written release that it was clear “values voters have ushered President George W. Bush down the aisle for a second term. What does this mean? It means that if the president stays true to his word, the next four years will be defining ones for family issues, including marriage, life and taxes.”

The ERLC, as well as other evangelical organizations and churches, promoted voter registration and education in an unprecedented manner this year. The ERLC initiated the year-long iVoteValues.com campaign. Focus on the Family collaborated with the SBC entity shortly thereafter. Other evangelicals were urged to register and vote through such efforts as Redeem the Vote.

“I want to take a moment to thank all the Southern Baptists and others who supported the iVoteValues campaign and who voted their values, beliefs and convictions and who encouraged others to vote their values, beliefs and convictions,” Land said.

Such efforts were duplicated by many groups from a variety of ideological perspectives during the months leading to the election. The result was a massive turnout at the polls. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Bush had 58.9 million votes, the largest ever for a presidential candidate. Kerry had 55.3 million. Nader had less than 400,000.

In Congress, Republicans not only turned back Democrat efforts to regain both houses but increased their majorities.

With one race still outstanding the GOP’s Senate majority had grown from 51 to 54. With GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski holding a narrow lead in Alaska, it appeared the Republicans could have a 55-member majority. If so, there would be 44 Democrats and one independent.

House Republicans were guaranteed at least a two-seat gain to 231 with three races still undecided in the 435-member chamber.

The GOP not only gained seats in the Senate, but some of those seats will be filled by stalwart pro-life and pro-family advocates, including former Rep. Tom Coburn in Oklahoma and Reps. Jim DeMint and David Vitter of South Carolina and Louisiana, respectively.

The Democrats, meanwhile, lost their leader, Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota. Former Rep. John Thune edged Daschle, who became the first party leader in the Senate to lose in more than half a century.

“Dumping Daschle — which has been the theme of his opponents in South Dakota — is going to have a major impact on the Senate,” Carrie Gordon Earll, senior policy analyst for Focus on the Family Action, told Baptist Press. “[It will have an impact] on marriage, hopefully on human cloning. Daschle almost single-handedly blocked a vote on human cloning a couple of years.”

The larger Republican majority could be a hopeful sign for a marriage protection amendment that was blocked from a vote in the Senate earlier this year, as well as the confirmation of Bush’s judicial nominees. Led by Daschle, the Democrats filibustered several of the president’s appeals court nominees. With 54 or 55 Republicans in the Senate, Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee could have the votes to change the rules and prevent filibusters on judicial nominees, Land said.

Voters overwhelmingly passed amendments protecting marriage as the union of a man and a woman in all of the 11 states where they were on the ballot.

The pro-life cause suffered a major defeat in California, however. That state’s voters approved an initiative that legalizes destructive embryonic stem cell research and permits research cloning (also called therapeutic cloning). The research will be funded with up to $3 billion in state bonds over 10 years.