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U.S.: Republican Party Gains Control Of Both Houses Of Congress

  • Andrew Tully

U.S. President George W. Bush's Republican Party has captured the Senate and retained control of the House of Representatives in America's mid-term congressional elections yesterday. Bush now has a Congress in which both houses are controlled by his own party. The Democrats credited Bush's strong positions in the war against terrorism and on Iraq. The results will strengthen the president's stand on domestic issues, but the significance for foreign policy is less clear. Analysts say Bush already had a very strong hand in foreign policy and would have retained this control regardless of who won.

Washington, 6 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush's Republican Party has captured the Senate and retained control of the House of Representatives in America's mid-term congressional elections yesterday.

First results today indicate that the Republican party has retained a majority of at least 225 seats in the 435-seat House of Representatives.

Bush's Republican party also picked up a net gain of at least two seats in the 100-seat Senate, giving it a minimum of 51.

Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe, speaking early this morning, attributed the Republican victory to Bush's popularity on the war against terror and his strong stand on Iraq. He noted that Bush has had the longest sustained approval ratings of any president in modern history.

Bush and Vice President Cheney had campaigned vigorously during the last week of the campaign and raised tens of millions of dollars for Republican candidates.

The result surprised many observers, who had expected the makeup of the two chambers of Congress to remain roughly the same, with the Republicans retaining their slim majority in the House and the Democrats their slim majority in the Senate.

These same analysts also dismissed Bush's extensive campaigning. Historically, they said, a local candidate may share in a president's popularity, but that aura fades quickly once the president departs.

But it was not the Democrats' night.

The first race to indicate a trend in Bush's favor was the Senate vote in the southern state of North Carolina. Republican Elizabeth Dole beat back a strong challenge by Democrat Erskine Bowles, a former chief of staff for President Bill Clinton.

Republican observers had given up on Dole's chances because she had squandered a large lead over Bowles. But she managed to prevail, and in her victory speech acknowledged the broad support her opponent had in the campaign.

"I want to ask those who voted for Erskine Bowles to please give me a chance because I intend to be a senator for all of North Carolina."

The Republican Party's good fortune was confirmed a little later in the Senate race in Georgia, where Republican Saxby Chambliss defeated incumbent Democratic Senator Max Cleland.

Cleland is a decorated war veteran who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam. Yet Chambliss managed to defeat Cleland by successfully portraying him as not fully supportive of Bush's efforts to protect Americans from terrorist attacks by establishing a Department of Homeland Security.

Despite Chambliss's heavy reliance on advertising that portrayed Cleland in an unflattering light, the victorious candidate told his supporters in Atlanta, Georgia's capital, that he owes his success primarily to their hard work.

"And you folks went out and not just went door to door but you stuffed the envelopes, you made an unbelievable number of phone calls, and I just can't tell you how much I appreciate the hours and hours and hours of work that you put into this race."

The race that ultimately gave control of the Senate to the Republicans was in Missouri. In the predawn hours this morning (0800 Prague time), Senator Jeanne Carnahan, a Democrat, conceded defeat to her challenger, Republican Jim Talent.

"Ours is the cause that has not been lessened by defeat or diminished by the heartache we feel this night. As always, others will come to lift the fallen torch. The fire will not go out."

Overall, Democrats added to their state governorships, but lost in their traditional strongholds of Massachusetts and Maryland, while watching one-term southern Democrats lose their jobs in Georgia and South Carolina. Jeb Bush, the brother of the president and also a Republican, won reelection as Florida governor.

"I want to thank my mother and dad [former U.S. President George Bush] for being my inspiration in life, and I want to thank our great president of the United States [George W. Bush] for coming down and lending a hand to his little brother."

Bush now has a Congress in which both houses are controlled by his own Republican Party. But it's not yet clear what impact the victory will have on the president's ability to push his domestic and foreign-policy agendas.

They say the results will probably strengthen the president's hand in making judicial appointments and possibly passing more tax cuts.

But analysts say the results probably will not have much effect on Bush's foreign policy.

Larry Sabato, a political analyst at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, says that no matter what happened yesterday, Bush would have felt he had a free hand to pursue his war on international terrorism and to go to war, if necessary, against Iraq.

"By and large, foreign policy, for better or worse, is mainly in the preserve of the president. And this president in particular, much like his father, views it as his personal preserve and probably will do about what is expected now, tomorrow, and the next day and the following day regardless of which party is in control."

Nathan Brown, a professor of political science at Washington's George Washington University, says Bush did not need control of Congress to press his foreign policy agenda. Brown says Congress has made itself largely irrelevant in terms of the war on terrorism and the building confrontation with Iraq:

"If [Congress] wanted to stop [a potential war against Iraq] from going forward, Congress had the opportunity. And it didn't do so, I think, not simply out of respect for constitutional traditions. It did so, I think, out of a political calculation that this was a 'no-win' proposition: To stand up very strongly against the war may not stop it, but may give the Democrats blame for anything that goes wrong."

Stephen Hess agrees. Hess specializes in government studies at the Brookings Institution, an independent Washington policy center. He goes further and says Bush would have faced no real challenge even if the rival Democrats had managed to take control of both the Senate and the House in yesterday's elections.

Hess was asked if the Democrats had taken over both chambers of Congress, would not Bush at least be required to explain his foreign policy initiatives more thoroughly to less compliant legislators. Not at all, Hess replied:

"It's not his [Bush's] style [to explain his foreign policy initiatives], and I don't think it'll make a difference."

But Bush must face reelection in two years, and cannot rely solely on his foreign policy initiatives to win a second four-year term as president. And if the American economy does not improve, Bush may, like his father, lose his great popularity with the nation's electorate and face defeat.

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