SEVERAL months ago, most pollsters were predicting that the margin of difference between Kerry and Bush would be razor-thin.
I can't recall anyone projecting a landslide for either candidate, let alone a major political realignment nationwide.
Guess what? They were more right than wrong. The outcome wasn't quite razor-thin, but it was no landslide either.
Nor did a fundamental political realignment take place. By historical standards, it was a narrow victory.
It didn't remotely approximate the presidential victories in 1940, 1964, 1972 or 1984.
Nor did it come close to Franklin D Roosevelt's triumphs in the 1930s that ushered in a Democratic majority and realigned national politics for decades to come. Let's look at the facts.
After nearly 120 million votes were cast, the margin of difference separating the two candidates was a mere 3.5 million. By any standards, that is a close division of the house.
Even in the red states, Kerry received 43 per cent of the vote and, among the main constituencies of the progressive movement - labour, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, other racially oppressed, women, youth, environmentalists, peace activists, gays and lesbians and others - he won a clear-cut majority.
And, had Ohio gone to Kerry, which it nearly did, the soul-searching and hand-wringing would be taking place on the Republican side.
To this, we would add the historic election to the Senate of African-American Barack Obama and Mexican-American Ken Salazar, plus other Democratic victories at the congressional and state level.
Only in the states of the old Confederacy can the Republicans legitimately argue that a basic realignment in their favour has taken place, in part because labour is too weak there and progressives nationally have too easily yielded it to reaction and racism.
Bush delivered no knockout punch on November 2. In fact, the next round of this match between the extreme right and the broad, labour-led democratic movement has already begun.
Of course, the struggle will not unfold on the terrain that the progressive movement had hoped.
While Karl Rove's stable right-centre majority didn't materialise, the political tilt was enough for the extreme right to recapture the presidency, increase its majority in both houses of Congress and energise its reactionary base.
Obviously, the dangers in this turn of events are immense. For the Bush administration is not your average bourgeois-democratic regime.
It is not yet fascist, but its personnel, style and policies have all the hallmarks of a conservative-authoritarian government that unhesitatingly sets aside democratic norms, rights and procedures in favor of state-sanctioned lawlessness and use of force.
So how do we explain the fact that more than 59 million people voted for him?
The answer is not simple and will probably change as more information becomes available. For now, though, I would offer several reasons.
First of all, the Bush campaign and its powerful propaganda apparatus systematically and unrelentingly exploited the deeply felt anxieties and fears that are traceable to September 11.
Rightly or wrongly, people feel vulnerable and Bush and his propaganda machine heightened this feeling - unsurprisingly, for, in the end, they knew that they had to mercilessly manipulate them in order to win.
Another reason is that the Republicans cleverly and assiduously cultivated the perception that they were the defenders of family, faith, and life against the morally lax and secular-minded Democrats.
Their deeds betray their words, but, in politics, perceptions sometimes trump reality and the prominence of moral issues benefited the Republicans.
But it is very premature to suggest, as some analysts are, that the nation is cleaved down the middle by an unbridgeable cultural divide.
There is still plenty of space for both dialogue on cultural concerns and common action on issues of mutual concern, like jobs, health care, education and the Iraq war.
Another factor that favoured Bush is that economic difficulties didn't automatically translate into Democrat votes.
For some voters, non-material concerns outweighed material ones, while, for others, conservative economic ideology kept them in Bush's camp.
The conventional wisdom that Democrats are the better economic stewards continues to hold true among a majority of voters, but not to the same extent as it once did.
Bush's image as a strong leader and homespun man of faith also served him well.
Though Kerry supporters find this image laughable, Bush's supporters see him as down-to-earth, straight-talking, decisive and able to relate to people.
Bush also benefited from the systematic suppression of the vote before and on November 2.
The extent of voter theft may never be known, but it was consequential and steeped in racism so pervasive, deliberate and unconcealed that it harkens back to the worst days of Jim Crow.
Targeted by the Republican Party were communities of colour and especially the African-American people.
Finally, the Republicans did a better job turning out their constituency, against the prevailing assumption that higher turnouts benefit the Democrats.
Compared to 2000, 13 million more voters cast ballots on election day, of whom 8 million voted for Bush and only 5 million for Kerry.
While no single factor accounts for this, part of the explanation is that the Republican Party is more politically and organisationally coherent than the Democrats.
For nearly two and a half decades, it has been popularising consistent political themes and an ideological worldview that legitimises its actions and policies.
It has penetrated the mass media, including gaining unchallenged dominance over radio talk shows and Fox News.
It has trained a group of seasoned political operatives and cadre who came of age during Reagan's presidency.
And it has nurtured a grassroots constituency that is "faith-based," ideologically driven and dug into rural areas, ex-urban and new suburban communities.
The Democratic Party has nothing remotely approaching this apparatus. Perhaps it did in the past, but those days are long gone.
In fact, were it not for labour, the racially oppressed, women, seniors, youth, peace and environmental organisations, gay and lesbian groups and new grassroots formations like ACT, MoveOn, True Majority and many others, the election results would have been much worse.
This loose and many-layered coalition of organisations and social forces provided the political muscle for Kerry as well as other Democrats.
For months, it registered, educated and organised old and new voters in a variety of creative ways.
And, on election day, its energy and organisation brought millions to the polls to vote for Kerry.
By every measure, this coalition emerged on November 3 stronger in every sense and more than ready to organise the fight against the Bush agenda in the period ahead.
Critics of the Kerry campaign should proceed with caution, given the complexity of this election.
Any explanation that fixates on Kerry's shortcomings is sure to conceal much more than it reveals.
More deserving of criticism is the Democratic Party as a whole. Its performance was woeful.
At the same time, we should be mindful that the main class and social forces that utilise the party to fight the right and who are critical of it themselves will, in all probability, continue to operate within its orbit.
Abstract appeals to break with the Democrats make no tactical sense, especially now, when Bush is claiming an election mandate.
At a press conference earlier this month, he arrogantly asserted that he had "earned political capital" and intended to spend it.
While millions do not agree with this manifestly self-serving interpretation of the election outcome, Bush and his advisers could not care less and will act with great speed.
They fully understand that a window of opportunity can close quickly.
The war in Iraq could take a dangerous turn - as it now is - economic conditions could deteriorate, popular movements could hit the streets or public opinion, which already has grave concerns over the direction in which the country is moving, could quickly sour on the Bush administration's agenda.
Just as the Bush team is double-timing its preparations for a new offensive at home and abroad, the broad people's movement must also regroup its forces across the country for an intense period of resistance to that agenda of war, economic hardship, inequality and attempts to further erode democratic liberties and entitlements.
The political soul of the republic hangs in the balance. Blunting the Bush agenda won't be easy, but it must and can be done.
Not for a long time - perhaps never - has the country seen a progressive coalition of this size and scope in the forefront of the people's struggles.
While it came up a little short in the effort to defeat Bush, it has the potential to become a centre-left majority on a national level.
This coalition, which is anchored in the core components of the US people - labour, the racially oppressed and women - possesses a growth curve that is far from exhausted.
With initiative, creativity and united actions, this coalition can and must deepen and extend its reach to every region of the country - especially the South - and to wider sections of the people.
Even among Bush's current supporters, there are different classes and social forces whose interests are contradictory, thereby presenting opportunities for the progressive movement to peel away some of that support.
What is shaping up is a titanic struggle over the future of the US. Each of us has to step forward.
As with other turning points in US history, unity - and especially multi-racial unity - must be the watchword and the struggle to defend and extend democracy in all of its forms must be the overriding aim.
Only a labour-led united people's coalition can turn back the right-wing offensive that is spearheaded from the White House.
â¢ Sam Webb is Communist Party USA national chairman. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org