As congratulations streamed in from around the world, Bush appeared set for second-term changes.

Citing government officials on Thursday, The New York Times said Attorney-General John Ashcroft, 62, and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, 59, are among those who are likely to step down for personal reasons.

Other members of the Bush cabinet who are also expected to leave their posts in the next four years are Secretary of State Colin Powell, 67, and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, 72.

Bush claimed victory on Wednesday after Democratic challenger John Kerry finally conceded the first presidential race since the 11 September 2001 attacks.

The Massachusetts senator had held out for hours in the hope he could pull out a miracle win in the pivotal state of Ohio.

Kerry's concession

 

Kerry's concession in a close contest averted fears of a repeat of the 2000 debacle that went to the US Supreme Court before Bush was declared the winner.


Kerry had called Bush to concede
and said it was time for healing

This year Bush won big, capturing a majority of the popular vote for the first time and spearheading a successful Republican drive to expand the party's control of both houses of Congress.

In a victory speech to cheering supporters, Bush, who built his campaign around the issue of national security, promised to pursue the global fight against terrorism "with every resource of our national power" and with "good allies".

At the same time, he reached out to the 55 million Kerry voters, speaking of a new "season of hope" and appealing for help in uniting a country polarised by months of hostile campaigning and the war in Iraq.

Trust

"I will need your support and I will work to earn it. I will do all I can do to deserve your trust," Bush said. "A new term is a new opportunity to reach out to the whole nation." 

Earlier, Kerry had sounded a similar note of reconciliation as he sought to console his devastated supporters in Boston.

Bush had successfully portrayed
Kerry as weak on national security

"Today, I hope that we can begin the healing," said Kerry, who had called Bush to concede after it became clear there was no way of overturning the president's 130,000-vote advantage in Ohio - the state the incumbent needed to pass the 270 electoral votes required for victory.

"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," Kerry said.

The Republican's triumph came after eight months and a billion dollars of hostile campaigning that focused on Iraq and who could better keep the country safe.

War president

Bush won the popular vote 51-48% with a 3.5 million vote margin, a far cry from 2000 when he lost the nationwide tally to Democrat Al Gore but took a decisive majority of electoral votes awarded in separate state contests. 

At the victory rally, Vice-President Dick Cheney said the result amounted to a "mandate" for the aggressive Bush campaign agenda, that included a range of conservative social and economic policies from tax cuts to limits on stem-cell research.

 

Bush now has the opportunity to
appoint conservative judges

"We will uphold our deepest values of family and faith," said Bush who, in his second term, could well get the opportunity to appoint conservative justices to seats that become vacant on the Supreme Court.

Exit polls cited in US newspapers showed Bush's strategy of boosting his own leadership credentials as a "war president" bore fruit among the more than 110 million Americans who cast ballots.

Republican gains

Eighty-five percent of those who voted for the president said they did so because of his leadership skills and ability to deal with "terrorism". 

 

The Republicans also scored big in the US Congress, adding four seats to the 51 they already controlled in the 100-member Senate, and at least four to the 227 they held in the 435-member House of Representatives. 

The results were vindication for Bush, who had once been written off as a political lightweight.

The Republicans have tightened
their grip on power

It also gave him a leg up on his father, George Bush Sr, who lasted only one term as president.

The younger Bush had sought a mandate to complete what he said was unfinished work after September 11.

The attacks on the US a few months into his term turned Bush into an avenging sheriff, spearheading a "with-me-or-against-me" drive against what he called "global terrorism" which he used to invade Afghanistan and Iraq.

Tough talk worked

 

"If America shows any uncertainty or any weakness in this decade, the world will drift toward tragedy," he said in his signature line on the campaign trail. "This is not going to happen on my watch."

More than half of US voters who turned out chose to give another term to Bush, who has said he is willing to use pre-emptive military force to protect the country.

They apparently rejected Kerry's more-nuanced view of the "war on terror" that he promised would rely on intelligence, diplomacy and economic clout as much as sheer firepower.