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Inside Politics

Regret, no remorse in Kerry's call for unity

By Christy Oglesby

John Edwards talks with his running mate John Kerry before delivering their concession speech.
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(CNN) -- By the time Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry got to the eighth sentence of his concession speech, he'd said it all.

"I'm sorry that we got here a little bit late and a little bit short," the defeated presidential candidate said Wednesday afternoon.

The senator was a little more than an hour late for his scheduled 1 p.m. speech in Fanueil Hall in Boston, Massachusetts, but it was the 3.5 million deficit in popular votes and the lack of 18 electoral votes that turned the breezy quip serious.

White House spokespeople earlier described Kerry's congratulatory phone call to President Bush as gracious and strong on reconciliation.

And Wednesday the junior Massachusetts senator made repeated references to unifying a divided nation that produced only a two percentage point difference in the popular vote for the two presidential candidates.

It started when he disclosed the contents of his conversation with the president. "... I offered him and Laura our congratulations on their victory, " Kerry said. "We had a good conversation, and we talked about the danger of division in our country and the need -- the desperate need for unity, for finding the common ground, coming together. Today I hope that we can begin the healing." (Kerry: 'We must find common cause')

He spoke with regret: "I wish, you don't know how much, that I could have brought this race home for you."

But he didn't have remorse: "It was a privilege and a gift to spend two years traveling this country, coming to know so many of you."

And about the uncounted votes, he was realistic: "... Even when all the provisional ballots are counted, which they will be, there won't be enough outstanding votes for us to be able to win Ohio. And therefore we cannot win this election."

Before dawn Republican politicians had begun murmuring that Kerry should concede. And at 4 a.m. White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card declared that the Bush campaign was certain of its victory.

About two hours earlier, Kerry running mate, Sen. John Edwards told a hopeful crowd in Boston's Copley Square that the party had waited four years for victory, and it was willing to wait another day.

But as the day lengthened, basic math dashed those hopes. There were not enough uncounted votes to cover the spread in Ohio which held the 20 electoral votes Kerry needed to win.

Kerry mentioned that as he returned to expressing his desire to unify the electorate. "The outcome should be decided by voters, not a protracted legal process," he said. "I would not give up this fight if there was a chance that we would prevail."

Early Wednesday, Kerry advisers huddled with the candidate to decide what to do. Giving up prematurely would send the wrong message. Engaging in legal rancor could create more harm than healing.

So after more than 600 days of campaigning, the bitter contest ended at 2:14 p.m. on November 3 with Kerry's bid for unity:

"I did my best to express my vision and my hopes for America. We worked hard and we fought hard, and I wish that things had turned out a little differently," he said. "But in an American election, there are no losers, because whether or not our candidates are successful, the next morning we all wake up as Americans."

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