The 2004 United States presidential election was the 55th quadrennial presidential election
, held on Tuesday, November 2, 2004. The Republican
ticket of incumbent President George W. Bush
and his running mate Vice President Dick Cheney
were elected to a second term, defeating the Democratic
ticket of John Kerry
, a United States Senator
and his running mate John Edwards
, a United States Senator from North Carolina
. At the time Bush's popular vote total was the most votes ever received by a presidential candidate, a total that has since been surpassed six times by four candidates in following elections. Bush also became the only incumbent president to win re-election after losing the popular vote in the previous election.
Bush and Cheney were renominated by their party with no difficulty. Former Vermont
Governor Howard Dean
emerged as the early front-runner in the 2004 Democratic primaries
, but Kerry won the first set of primaries in January and clinched his party's nomination in March after a series of primary victories. Kerry chose Edwards, who had himself sought the party's 2004 presidential nomination, to be his running mate.
Bush's popularity had soared early in his first term after the September 11, 2001 attacks
, but his popularity declined between 2001 and 2004. Foreign policy
was the dominant theme throughout the election campaign, particularly Bush's conduct of the War on Terrorism
and the 2003 invasion of Iraq
. Bush presented himself as a decisive leader and attacked Kerry as a "flip-flopper
", while Kerry criticized Bush's conduct of the Iraq War
. Domestic issues were debated as well, including the economy
and jobs, health care
, same-sex marriage
and embryonic stem cell
Bush won by a narrow margin of 35 electoral votes
and took 50.7% of the popular vote. He swept the South
and the Mountain States
and took the crucial swing state
s of Ohio
, and New Mexico
, the latter two being flipped Republican. Although Kerry flipped New Hampshire
, Bush's electoral map expanded numerically. Some aspects of the election process were subject to controversy
, but not to the degree seen in the 2000 presidential election
. Bush won Florida
by a solid five-point margin, unlike his razor-thin 2000 victory margin in the state that led to a legal challenge in ''Bush v. Gore
Bush was the first candidate since his father
in the 1988 election
to win over 50% of the popular vote, and is the most recent Republican candidate to have done so. Bush's victory also marked the first and only time that the nominee of a major party won a presidential election without winning any electoral votes from the Northeast
. It also marks the final time to date that a Republican presidential nominee has won the states of Colorado
, New Mexico
, and Virginia
. Bush served until 2009 and was succeeded by Democrat Barack Obama
, whereas Kerry continued to serve in the Senate and later became Secretary of State
during Obama's second term. As of 2021, this is the most recent presidential election where an incumbent president increased their electoral vote count from their previous election. This also remains the most recent election when the Republican candidate would be re-elected as President of the United States and the last time a Republican won the popular vote. This is also the most recent election where the winning candidate did not receive at least 300 electoral votes.
George W. Bush
won the presidency in 2000
after the Supreme Court
's decision in ''Bush v. Gore
'' remanded the case to the Florida Supreme Court
, which declared there was not sufficient time to hold a recount without violating the U.S. Constitution
Just eight months into his presidency, the terrorist attacks
of September 11, 2001, suddenly transformed Bush into a wartime president. Bush's approval ratings surged to near 90%. Within a month, the forces of a coalition led by the United States entered Afghanistan
, which had been sheltering Osama bin Laden
, suspected mastermind of the September 11 attacks. By December, the Taliban
had been removed, although a long and ongoing reconstruction would follow.
The Bush administration then turned its attention to Iraq
, and argued the need to remove Saddam Hussein
from power in Iraq had become urgent. The Iraq issue gave Bush an antagonist to present to the people, (similar but different than that of 2001) rallying support against a common enemy rather than gaining voters through ideas or policy. Among the stated reasons
were that Saddam's regime had tried to acquire nuclear material
and had not properly accounted for biological
material it was known to have previously possessed. Both the possession of these weapons of mass destruction
(WMD), and the failure to account for them, would violate the UN sanctions
. The assertion about WMD was hotly advanced by the Bush administration from the beginning, but other major powers including China, France, Germany, and Russia remained unconvinced that Iraq was a threat and refused to allow passage of a UN Security Council resolution to authorize the use of force. Iraq permitted UN weapon inspectors in November 2002, who were continuing their work to assess the WMD claim when the Bush administration decided to proceed with war without UN authorization and told the inspectors to leave the country. The United States invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003, along with a "coalition of the willing
" that consisted of additional troops from the United Kingdom, and to a lesser extent, from Australia and Poland. Within about three weeks, the invasion caused the collapse of both the Iraqi government and its armed forces
. However, the U.S. and allied forces failed to find any weapon of mass destruction
in Iraq. Nevertheless, on May 1, George W. Bush landed on the aircraft carrier , in a Lockheed S-3 Viking
, where he gave a speech
announcing the end of "major combat operations" in the Iraq War
. Bush's approval rating in May was at 66%, according to a CNN
. However, Bush's high approval ratings did not last. First, while the war itself was popular in the U.S., the reconstruction and attempted "democratization" of Iraq lost some support as months passed and casualty figures increased, with no decrease in violence nor progress toward stability or reconstruction. Second, as investigators combed through the country, they failed to find the predicted WMD stockpiles, which led to debate over the rationale for the war.
Bush's popularity rose as a wartime president, and he was able to ward off any serious challenge to the Republican nomination. Senator Lincoln Chafee
from Rhode Island considered challenging Bush on an anti-war platform in New Hampshire
, but decided not to run after the capture of Saddam Hussein
in December 2003.
On March 10, 2004, Bush officially clinched the number of delegates needed to be nominated at the 2004 Republican National Convention
in New York City. He accepted the nomination on September 2, 2004, and retained Vice President Dick Cheney
as his running mate
. During the convention and throughout the campaign, Bush focused on two themes: defending America against terrorism and building an ownership society
. Bush used populist ideals in an attempt to rally citizens behind him in a time of international terror. The ownership society included allowing people to invest some of their Social Security
in the stock market, increasing home and stock ownership, and encouraging more people to buy their own health insurance.
Democratic Party nomination
Before the primaries
By summer 2003, Howard Dean
had become the apparent front-runner for the Democratic nomination, performing strongly in most polls and leading the pack with the largest campaign war chest. His strength as a fund raiser was attributed mainly to his embrace of the Internet for campaigning. The majority of his donations came from individual supporters, who became known as ''Deanites'', or, more commonly, ''Deaniacs
''. Generally regarded as a pragmatic centrist
during his governorship, Dean emerged during his presidential campaign as a left-wing populist
, denouncing the policies of the Bush administration (especially the invasion of Iraq) as well as fellow Democrats, who, in his view, failed to strongly oppose them. Senator Joe Lieberman, a liberal on domestic issues but a hawk on the War on Terror, began his candidacy in early 2003 but failed to gain traction with liberal Democratic primary voters.
In September 2003, retired four-star general Wesley Clark
announced his intention to run for the Democratic nomination. His campaign focused on themes of leadership and patriotism; early campaign advertisements relied heavily on biography. His late start left him with relatively few detailed policy proposals. This weakness was apparent in his first few debates, although he soon presented a range of position papers, including a major tax-relief plan. Nevertheless, the Democrats did not flock to support his campaign.
In sheer numbers, John Kerry
had fewer endorsements than Dean, who was far ahead in the superdelegate
race going into the Iowa caucuses in January 2004
. However, Kerry led the endorsement races in Iowa, New Hampshire, Arizona, South Carolina, New Mexico, and Nevada. His main perceived weakness was in his neighboring state of New Hampshire and nearly all national polls. Most other states did not have updated polling numbers to give an accurate placing for Kerry's campaign before Iowa. Heading into the primaries, Kerry's campaign was largely seen as being in trouble, particularly after he fired campaign manager Jim Jordan
. The key factors enabling it to survive were when fellow Massachusetts
Senator Ted Kennedy
assigned Mary Beth Cahill
to be the new campaign manager, as well as Kerry's mortgaging
his home to lend the money to his campaign (while his wife was a billionaire, campaign finance rules prohibited using one's personal fortune). He also brought on the "magical" Michael Whouley
who would be credited with helping bring home the Iowa victory the same as he did in New Hampshire for Al Gore
in 2000 against Bill Bradley
By the January 2004 Iowa caucus
es, the field had dwindled down to nine candidates, as Bob Graham had dropped out of the race. Howard Dean was a strong front-runner. However, the Iowa caucuses yielded unexpectedly strong results for Democratic
candidates Kerry, who earned 38% of the state's delegates, and John Edwards
, who took 32%. Dean slipped to 18% and into third place, while Richard Gephardt
finished fourth (11%). In the days leading up to the Iowa vote, there was much negative campaigning between the Dean and Gephardt candidacies.
The dismal results caused Gephardt to drop out and later endorse Kerry. Carol Moseley Braun also dropped out, endorsing Howard Dean. Besides the impact of coming in third, Dean was further hurt by a speech that he gave while at a post-caucus rally. He was shouting over the cheers of his enthusiastic audience, but the crowd noise was being filtered out by his unidirectional microphone
, leaving only his full-throated exhortations audible to the television viewers. To those at home, he seemed to raise his voice out of sheer emotion.
The incessant replaying of the "Dean Scream
" by the press became a debate on whether Dean was victimized by media bias
. The scream scene was shown approximately 633 times by cable and broadcast news networks in just four days after the incident, an amount not including talk shows and local news broadcasts. However, those in the actual audience that day have insisted that they didn't know about the infamous "scream" until they returned to their hotel rooms and saw it on television.
Kerry had revived his campaign and began using the slogan "Comeback Kerry".
New Hampshire primary
On January 27, Kerry triumphed again, winning the New Hampshire primary
. Dean finished second, Clark came in third, and Edwards placed fourth. The largest of the debates was held at Saint Anselm College
, where both Kerry and Dean had strong performances.
South Carolina primary
The following week, Edwards won the South Carolina primary and brought home a strong second-place finish in Oklahoma
to Clark. Lieberman dropped out of the campaign the following day. Kerry dominated throughout February and his support quickly snowballed as he won caucuses and primaries, taking in wins in Michigan
; Washington, D.C.; Nevada
, Hawaii, and Idaho
. Clark and Dean dropped out during this time, leaving Edwards as the only real threat to Kerry. Kucinich and Sharpton continued to run despite poor results at the polls.
In March's Super Tuesday
, Kerry won decisive victories in the California
, New York, Ohio
, and Rhode Island
primaries as well as in the Minnesota
caucuses. Despite having withdrawn from the race two weeks earlier, Dean won his home state of Vermont. Edwards finished only slightly behind Kerry in Georgia, but after failing to win a single state other than South Carolina, he chose to withdraw from the presidential race. Sharpton followed suit a couple weeks later. Kucinich did not leave the race officially until July.
Democratic National Convention
On July 6, Kerry selected Edwards as his running mate, shortly before the 2004 Democratic National Convention
was held later that month in Boston
. Days before Kerry announced Edwards as his running mate, Kerry gave a short list of three candidates: Sen. John Edwards
, Rep. Dick Gephardt
, and Gov. Tom Vilsack
. Heading into the convention, the Kerry/Edwards ticket unveiled its new slogan: a promise to make America "stronger at home and more respected in the world." Kerry made his Vietnam War
experience the convention's prominent theme. In accepting the nomination, he began his speech with, "I'm John Kerry and I'm reporting for duty." He later delivered what may have been the speech's most memorable line when he said, "the future doesn't belong to fear, it belongs to freedom", a quote that later appeared in a Kerry/Edwards television advertisement.
The keynote address at the convention was delivered by Illinois
State Senator (and future president) Barack Obama
; the speech was well received, and it elevated Obama's status within the Democratic Party.
There were four other presidential tickets on the ballot in a number of states totaling enough electoral votes to have a theoretical possibility of winning a majority in the Electoral College
. They were:
* Michael Badnarik
/ Richard Campagna
, Libertarian Party
). Badnarik was nominated on the third ballot and Campagna on the first ballot at the Libertarian National Convention
in Atlanta, Georgia
, held May 28–31, 2004.
* David Cobb
/ Pat LaMarche
, Green Party
). Cobb was nominated on the second ballot at the 2004 Green National Convention
in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
, held June 23–28, 2004.
* Ralph Nader
/ Peter Camejo
(also Reform Party
, Independent Party
(DE), Populist Party (MD), Better Life Party, Cross-endorsements N.Y., Peace and Justice Party, Independence Parties of New York
and South Carolina, and the Vermont Green Party who chose not to ratify the national party's presidential nominee).
* Michael Peroutka
/ Chuck Baldwin
, Constitution Party
(also Alaskan Independence Party
). Peroutka and Baldwin were unanimously nominated at the Constitution Party National Convention
at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania
(June 23–26, 2004).
General election campaign
Bush focused his campaign on national security, presenting himself as a decisive leader and contrasted Kerry as a "flip-flopper
." This strategy was designed to convey to American voters the idea that Bush could be trusted to be tough on terrorism while Kerry would be "uncertain in the face of danger." Bush (just as his father
did with Michael Dukakis
in the 1988 election
) also sought to portray Kerry as a "Massachusetts liberal
", who was out of touch with mainstream Americans. One of Kerry's slogans was "Stronger at home, respected in the world." This advanced the suggestion that Kerry would pay more attention to domestic concerns; it also encapsulated Kerry's contention that Bush had alienated American allies by his foreign policy.
According to one exit poll, people who voted for Bush cited the issues of terrorism and traditional values as the most important factors in their decision.
Kerry supporters cited the war in Iraq, the economy and jobs, and health care.
Over the course of Bush's first term in office, his extremely high approval ratings immediately following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks
steadily dwindled, rising only during combat operations in Iraq in spring 2003, and again following the capture of Saddam Hussein
in December that same year.
Between August and September 2004, there was an intense focus on events that occurred in the late-1960s and early-1970s. Bush was accused of failing to fulfill his required service
in the Texas Air National Guard
. However, the focus quickly shifted to the conduct of CBS News
after they aired a segment on ''60 Minutes Wednesday'', introducing what became known as the Killian documents
. Serious doubts about the documents' authenticity
quickly emerged, leading CBS to appoint a review panel that eventually resulted in the firing of the news producer and other significant staffing changes.
Meanwhile, Kerry was accused by the Swift Vets and POWs for Truth
, who averred that "phony war crimes
charges, his exaggerated claims about his own service in Vietnam, and his deliberate misrepresentation of the nature and effectiveness of Swift boat operations compels us to step forward." The group challenged the legitimacy of each of the combat medals awarded to Kerry by the U.S. Navy
, and the disposition of his discharge.
In the beginning of September, the successful Republican National Convention along with the allegations by Kerry's former mates gave Bush his first comfortable margin since Kerry had won the nomination. A post-convention Gallup poll showed the President leading the Senator by 14 points.
Three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate were organized by the Commission on Presidential Debates
, and held in the autumn of 2004. As expected, these debates set the agenda for the final leg of the political contest. Libertarian Party candidate Michael Badnarik and Green Party candidate David Cobb were arrested while trying to access the debates. Badnarik was attempting to serve papers to the Commission on Presidential Debates.
* The first debate was held on September 30, slated to focus on foreign policy, Kerry accused Bush of having failed to gain international support for the invasion of Iraq, saying the only countries assisting the U.S. during the invasion were the United Kingdom and Australia. Bush replied to this by saying, "Well, actually, he forgot Poland
." Later, a consensus formed among mainstream pollsters and pundits that Kerry won the debate decisively, strengthening what had come to be seen as a weak and troubled campaign. In the days after, coverage focused on Bush's apparent annoyance with Kerry and numerous scowls and negative facial expressions.
* On October 5, the vice presidential debate between Cheney and Edwards. An initial poll by ABC
indicated a victory for Cheney, while polls by CNN
gave it to Edwards.
* The second presidential debate was conducted in a town meeting format, less formal than the first presidential debate, this debate saw Bush and Kerry taking questions on a variety of subjects from a local audience. Bush attempted to deflect criticism of what was described as his scowling demeanor during the first debate, joking at one point about one of Kerry's remarks, "That answer made me want to scowl."
* Bush and Kerry met for the third and final debate on October 13. 51 million viewers watched the debate. After Kerry, responding to a question about gay rights, reminded the audience that Vice President Cheney's daughter
was a lesbian, Cheney responded with a statement calling himself "a pretty angry father" due to Kerry using Cheney's daughter's sexual orientation for his political purposes. Polls taken by Gallup in found that Kerry pulled ahead in October, but showed a tight race as the election drew to a close.
Osama bin Laden videotape
On October 29, four days before the election, excerpts of a video of Osama bin Laden
addressing the American people were broadcast on al Jazeera
. In his remarks, bin Laden mentions the September 11, 2001 attacks
and taunted Bush over his response to them. In the days following the video's release, Bush's lead over Kerry increased by several points.
Notable expressions and phrases
* Bring it on: Kerry used this to make the point that he was not afraid of attacks by the George W. Bush campaign. This phrase had previously been used by Bush in the summer of 2003, warning insurgents that the United States would not be intimidated to leave Iraq until after the country had been stabilized.
: although the term existed prior to the elections, Republicans used it to describe John Kerry after he said "I actually did vote for the $87 billion, before I voted against it."
: used in the primaries
by Joe Lieberman
to say that he had momentum. It was later used to ridicule Lieberman, since his campaign did not pick up momentum and he dropped out of the race (not to be confused with the 2020 Democratic Primary, in which Joe Biden gained momentum after the South Carolina Primary).
: a term used during the campaign to describe the work of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth
. The term has been used since the campaign to describe a harsh attack by a political opponent that is dishonest, personal and unfair.
* You forgot Poland
: paraphrased from Bush's comment in the first debate
when he said "Well, actually, he forgot Poland." Used to emphasize that the coalition against Iraq
was not as big as the list suggested because most of the participating countries sent a small number of troops.
Source (Electoral and Popular Vote):''Federal Elections Commission Electoral and Popular Vote Summary
Voting age population: 215,664,000
Percent of voting age population casting a vote for president: 56.70%
''One faithless elector
cast an electoral vote for John Edwards (written as John Ewards) for president.''
''Because Arrin Hawkins
, then aged 28, was constitutionally
ineligible to serve as vice president, Margaret Trowe
replaced her on the ballot in some states. James Harris
replaced Calero on certain other states' ballots.''
Results by state
The following table records the official vote tallies for each state as reported by thofficial Federal Election Commission report
The column labeled "Margin" shows Bush's margin of victory over Kerry (the margin is negative for states and districts won by Kerry).