Even before one vote was counted, this result was clear: The presidential race was a verdict on George W Bush. Both Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain positioned themselves as agents of change that is, change from Bush. The president's approval ratings have hovered near historically low levels _ it was just 26 percent in an AP-GfK poll conducted a couple of weeks before Election Day and he was a factor in voters' decision-making no matter how much he tried to keep out of the race. Obama seized on Bush's standing to make him a political liability for McCain, who in turn separated himself aggressively from the face of his own party as the campaign closed.
The president's face has been such a fixture in anti-McCain ads that it was up to Laura Bush to add a touch of lightness to her husband's woes.
"I'm really looking forward to Election Day," she said at a Republican campaign event in Kentucky on Monday, "partly because it seems like George has been on the ticket this entire year." In preliminary results from an Associated Press exit poll of voters on Tuesday, Bush and the Democratic-run Congress got low marks from voters. Only about one in five approve of how Bush is handling his job, and Congress fared no better.
The quietest place in Washington on Tuesday may have been the White House itself.
The president voted absentee several days ago, so there was no video of him at his precinct, no statements to reporters, no public appearance whatsoever.
Bush was spending his evening in the White House residence, watching TV coverage of election results and hosting a small dinner with his wife, Laura.
There was sure to be at least some celebrating Tuesday is the first lady's birthday. Otherwise, it was a day when the White House purposely went dark.
"He realizes this election is not about him," White House press secretary Dana Perino said heading into voting day. Tuesday marked the first time in 14 years a period when Bush twice won the Texas governorship and the presidency that he was not on the ballot.
Many pundits had no doubt about Tuesday's outcome. Among them: Karl Rove, once one of Bush's closest aides and the architect of his two successful presidential runs. On election eve, Rove distributed his last analysis of the electoral map. It predicted Obama winning easily, with 338 electoral votes. It takes 270 to win. The title of Rove's e-mail: "The End." He was referring to the election, but there was also a feeling of finality at the White House.
Outside, the post-Bush transition was starting. Construction workers churned away on Inauguration Day grandstands along Pennsylvania Avenue, the thoroughfare between the Capitol, where the new president is sworn in, and his new home, the White House.