Ever the dutiful soldier, John Kerry delivered the most painful speech of his life Wednesday, choking back the tears and the bitter aftertaste of defeat as he appealed to fellow Democrats to work to heal America's divide.
Amid the raw emotions that occasionally overwhelmed him, forcing Kerry to gaze up at the ceiling for composure, the Senator was careful to tell the faithful that he had thoroughly explored the prospects of a legal challenge and recounts before giving up on the election.
"In America, it is vital that every vote counts and that every vote be counted, but the outcome should be decided by voters, not a protracted legal fight," Kerry said.
"I would not have given up this fight if there was a chance we would prevail, but it is now clear that if all the provisional ballots were counted, which they will be, there won't be enough outstanding votes for us to win Ohio, and therefore we can't win the election."
It was in many ways, Kerry's finest appearance -- the flinty New Englander's feelings on full display for perhaps the first time in his candidacy.
Wednesday's concession speech, delivered in the 18th-century splendor of Boston's Faneuil Hall meeting place, was a rare encounter with failure for Kerry.
The product of a privileged New England upbringing, a graduate of Yale, a Vietnam war hero and husband to two heiresses, Kerry has lost just one election in his political career, and that was some 30 years ago.
But in ending the quest that has consumed him for more than half of his lifetime, the Democratic leader remained mindful of the extraordinary passions unleashed during the course of this election season, and the dangers of leaving his supporters to nurse their resentments.
And so Kerry extinguished the last hopes for Democrats that, even in the face of a convincing re-election victory for President George W Bush, somehow the results could be salvaged.
That was the rationale for his running mate, John Edwards, when he appeared in the dark hours of Wednesday morning, and promised thousands of supporters that the campaign was not ready to admit defeat -- at least not yet.
"We will fight for every vote," he said.
For several hours, it seemed that this election would be a re-run of the 2000 vote -- albeit with a change in venue from Florida to Ohio -- with recounts, and legal challenges, and no clear election victory for days to come.
Edwards sounded the same theme again Wednesday afternoon.
"We will continue to fight for every vote," he said. "We will honor each one of you who stood for us and stood in line."
But in the harsh dawn of the day, it was clear that victory was beyond Kerry's grasp. Even the Democrats' 11th-hour scenario of demanding a count of the provisional ballots cast in Ohio would not bring home the votes that Kerry needed.
After studying the returns, and consulting with Republican as well as Democratic politicians in the state, Kerry's aides advised him to surrender.
Shortly after 11am, Kerry made a brief phone call to the Oval Office to offer Bush his congratulations. Democratic officials said he praised Bush as a worthy opponent, and urged him -- twice -- to heal the divisions in the country.