With far less confusion and chaos than four years ago, American voters went to the polls in record numbers this week, and returned President Bush to the White House. In turning back the challenge of Democratic opponent John Kerry, the president won a clear majority of the electoral college and immediately turned to setting a second-term agenda.
The president's farm agenda includes adding an additional 800,000 acres to the Conservation Reserve Program ... opposing the labeling of genetically engineered food ... and supporting the expansion of locks and dams on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. The president also is a big fan of the free trade authority that would expedite the overseas sales of farm goods.
The president's interest in rural America is not superficial. He spent millions of dollars and months on the campaign trail in farm country ... which this week returned the love by way of big election margins.
Concluding one of the most expensive and bitterly contested presidential races in history, George W. Bush won his second term as president this week.
But the president faces considerable challenges during his second term. Record deficits, continuing hostilities in Iraq, and a record number of Americans without health care leave the president with much work to do.
President George W. Bush: "We have one country, one Constitution, and one future that binds us. And when we come together and work together, there is no limit to the greatness of America."
The Electoral College map offers a snapshot of how the president was reelected. Senator John Kerry prevailed in large, urban areas in states like California and New York while Bush carried everything else -- including rural America.
But the map fails to illustrate just how divided America really is. President Bush won the popular vote by less than 3 percent of the record 59 million votes that were cast. Nevertheless, in his concession speech, Kerry called on all Americans to unite behind the president.
Senator John Kerry: "We are required now to work together for the good of the country. In the days ahead, we must find common cause. We must join in common effort without remorse or recrimination; without anger or rancor. America is in need of unity.
Further away from Pennsylvania Avenue, other elections were especially significant to rural Americans -- none of them more so than in South Dakota, where Republican John Thune defeated Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle in the most expensive Senate race in the nation.
Congressional leaders like Daschle rarely face insurmountable challenges at home, but the White House targeted the three-term Senator as the chief obstacle to the president's initiatives over the past four years.
Daschle, long a champion of agriculture in his heavily Republican home state, reminisced on his quarter of a century on Capitol Hill.
Senator Tom Daschle: "I ran for the House of Representatives in '78 as some of you remember. Some of you are way too young to remember. But as I think back all the way from that election, to the elections ever since -- all the way to this one, I ran for the same reason -- a belief in what we can do together."
Thune's victory in South Dakota marked the 1st time in 52 years that a Senate leader lost a bid for reelection.
Democrats also lost an important voice in the House of Representatives with the defeat of Texan Charlie Stenholm, the ranking member on House Agriculture Committee.