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A year full of fight

Division, debate, difficulties mark 2004

Bush speech
President Bush was all smiles when he declared victory November 3 after John Kerry conceded.
Year in Review
George W. Bush
Acts of terror

(CNN) -- In many ways, 2004 was a yearlong campaign complete with winners and losers, rhetorical and real attacks, and concerted efforts to reach lofty goals.

The year began with nine Democratic presidential candidates trading barbs and jostling for position in chilly New Hampshire and Iowa. (Special Report: Democratic primaries)

A much-replayed scream helped halt former front-runner Howard Dean's momentum and, ultimately, his presidential bid. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, viewed by many Democratic primary voters as the party's best candidate to defeat President Bush, rallied to capture the party's nod. Fellow Sen. John Edwards emerged from the pack to become Kerry's closest party competitor and his eventual vice presidential choice.

But the political free-for-all had just started in March, when Kerry's strong and decisive Super Tuesday performance set him up for a slugfest with President Bush. (Special Report: Election 2004)

Another grueling campaign figured prominently in the Bush-Kerry showdown: the war in Iraq. While U.S.-led forces quickly toppled Saddam Hussein's regime in spring 2003, their difficulties -- and, concurrently, the casualty toll -- multiplied in the months thereafter. (Special Report: Struggle for Iraq)

Insurgents -- including anti-American Iraqis, Saddam loyalists, and foreign fighters led by Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- targeted coalition forces, civilians and Iraqi police and officials. By early September, the U.S. fatality toll in Iraq had exceeded 1,000 -- a figure that kept rising through year's end. (Coalition casualties)

American officials, and the military in particular, came under fire when pictures surfaced that showed physical and psychological abuse of Iraqi captives at Abu Ghraib prison, once run by Saddam's regime before being taken over by U.S. forces.

The coalition celebrated successes in Iraq, notably the June 28 transfer of power to a new Iraqi government. Despite continued violence, officials plan to hold nationwide elections on January 30, 2005.

U.S.-led forces, meanwhile, continue to fight in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. While al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden remained at large, Afghans participated in the first national election since the Taliban's fall -- formally choosing Hamid Karzai as their president. (Special Report: Fighting terror; Special Report: Afghanistan decides)

Terrorists struck in Madrid (bombings of four commuter trains killed nearly 200 people), Russia (a school siege ended with more than 330 dead, mostly children) and elsewhere. (Special Report: Madrid bombings; Russia school seige)

9/11 commission
The 9/11 Commission triggered debate and, ultimately, results with their public hearings, report and recommendations.

But for the third consecutive year, no terrorist incident took place in the United States. Even so, the September 11, 2001, terror attacks continued to garner front-page news thanks to the hearings, report and recommendations of the 9/11 commission. The debate climaxed late in 2004, when Congress passed a sweeping overhaul of intelligence based largely on the commission's report. (Commission issues report; Senate OKs intelligence overhaul)

The presidential election's sharp, decisive tone sparked vigorous debates on a variety of issues. Some of the most contentious focused on so-called moral values, from the definition of marriage (and whether it should include same-sex unions) to media standards (most prominently pop singer Janet Jackson's breast-revealing "wardrobe malfunction" during the Super Bowl halftime show).

In some ways, America ended the year as divided as ever, with Democratic-leaning "blue states" clustered in the Northeast, upper Midwest and West, Republican-leaning "red states" most everywhere else.

But, unlike four years ago, the presidential race of 2004 culminated with a clear winner. President Bush won re-election, with Ohio providing the margin of victory in the Electoral College race. This time, Bush won the popular vote with 51 percent to Kerry's 48 percent. (Election results)

The year ended in devastating fashion, as a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck off the Indonesian coast and triggered deadly tsunamis. From Thailand to Somalia, more than 150,000 people perished -- most of them drowned as colossal waves rolled in.

The tsunamis left many more without homes, food, clean water, power and other essentials. This fight for survival continued into 2005, as did the global campaign to raise money and garner supplies to help those in need.

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