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As was the case four years ago, Election Day came and went with Americans not knowing who their next president was going to be. With any luck, the similarity will stop there.

If Sen. John Kerry can close the margin separating him from President Bush in the Buckeye State, he will be the next president. Otherwise, the president will win re-election. What's important now is that there is a transparent count of the unrecorded provisional ballots, one that all Americans can accept as definitive. If that extends the election into next week, then so be it. Far better that voters pick the next president rather than the Supreme Court, even if it takes a few more days than expected.

It appears that Bush has the upper hand in the election. The president was not our choice, but if he prevails in Ohio, he will be the the people's choice, with a clear, albeit narrow, edge in the popular vote. Like all Americans who believe in the democratic experiment that began 228 years ago, we would wholeheartedly accept that decision, and offer our congratulations.

When a sitting president runs for re-election, the contest is largely a referendum on him. In the coming days, as pundits and pollsters dissect the exit polls, we'll have a clearer picture of what persuaded a majority of Americans to give their support to the president. But it seems reasonable to assume that national security, and the war on Islamic terrorism, played a major role.

Too many Americans, persuaded by the misinformation promulgated by the administration, believed that the war in Iraq was linked to the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. That was never the case. This mishandled war, begun for spurious reasons, has left the country with what looks increasingly to be an untenable situation in Iraq that may require an American presence for years to come just to keep the country from either becoming an anti-American Islamic state or disintegrating into civil war. If Bush does win another term, how he resolves this seemingly intractable problem could affect generations to come.

Assuming the president holds his lead in Ohio, there will be no shortage of major issues he will have to deal with in his next term, from reforming Social Security to nominating Supreme Court judges to lessening our dependence on Persian Gulf oil. This page will support the president's policies when we think they are in the best interests of the country, and we will point out, as we always have, when we think his policies are taking us in the wrong direction.

The closeness of the election will no doubt leave the country as divided as it has been over the past four years. But even as the political wars continue to rage -- what could be more American? -- the exercise that we conducted Tuesday should serve as a reminder that more unites us than divides us.

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