WASHINGTON—George Walker Bush, claiming the mantle of president-elect for the first time, appealed for national unity and reconciliation in a televised speech last night.
Bush, winner of the closest presidential election in more than a century despite having lost the popular vote, was conciliatory as he repeatedly called for bipartisan cooperation in the wake of a bitter postelection fight.
His remarks followed a graceful concession speech by Al Gore earlier in the evening. The vice president implored Americans to "put country before party" and "stand together behind our new president."
The two men delivered their twin addresses about 24 hours after the U.S. Supreme Court effectively delivered the presidency to Bush by barring a further recount of Florida's disputed ballots.
Both spoke of the need to reach across party lines, and each suggested that there may have been a divinely guided purpose behind their struggle over the past month.
"I believe things happen for a reason," said Bush, who will be sworn in as the 43rd president next month. "I hope the long wait of the last five weeks will heighten a desire to move beyond the bitterness and partisanship of the recent past."
Both also alluded to a period of far greater national division - the years surrounding the Civil War.
"Our nation must rise above a house divided," said the Republican president-elect, recalling a phrase that Lincoln quoted from the New Testament.
"I know America wants reconciliation and unity. I know Americans want progress. And we must seize this moment and deliver."
Bush, who used the words "bipartisan," "cooperation" and "reconciliation" more than a half-dozen times in an 11-minute speech, described himself repeatedly as an optimist. He said he was upbeat about prospects of changing the tone in Washington - a line he used often in his campaign speeches.
Much of his speech was a reprise of the promises and applause lines from the campaign, including a pledge to make "compassionate conservatism" the "foundation of my administration."
Bush also tried, as did Gore, to place the election impasse into a broader historical perspective. Bush recalled Thomas Jefferson's victory after an Electoral College tie two centuries ago and promised to be guided by a Jeffersonian sense of purpose as "the work of healing our nation" begins.
The Texas governor, who, along with his wife, Laura, was cheered by supporters at the Texas State Capitol, did not refer directly to the narrowness of his victory. But he did speak at the outset about the "long and trying" period that took "longer than any of us could have ever imagined" to finalize the result of a "difficult," "hard-fought" contest.
Bush becomes only the fourth man in U.S. history to win the election while losing the popular vote. His four-vote victory margin in the Electoral College is the narrowest since 1876.
To underscore his oft-stated contention that he is "a uniter, not a divider," Bush was introduced by the state's highest- ranking Democrat, James E. "Pete" Laney, speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.
Bush said that he decided to speak from the Democrat-controlled House chamber, because it is a place where "Republicans and Democrats have worked together to do what is right ... an example I will always follow."
He thanked Gore for his "gracious" concession call, "that I know was difficult to make," and saluted the vice president and his supporters "for waging a spirited campaign."
Less than an hour earlier, Gore spoke eloquently about the need for the nation, and especially the 50 million Americans who voted for him, to unite behind the new president.