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GOP sweeps Senate, House; Dems gain govs

By DAN OLMSTED, UPI Washington Bureau Chief   |   Nov. 6, 2002 at 3:06 AM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Nov. 5 (UPI) -- Republicans seized control of the U.S. Senate and retained their hold on the House of Representatives Tuesday, giving President George W. Bush a historic victory in mid-term elections that traditionally go against the incumbent president. Democrats were expected to add three or four governorships to their total of 21.

"President Bush and the Republican Party tonight have made history," the president's spokesman Ari Fleischer said in a 1:15 a.m. conference call with reporters. Less than an hour later, Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan of Missouri conceded defeat to Republican Jim Talent, sealing Republican control of the Senate.

Republican National Committee Chairman Marc Racicot told United Press International that "the message of this election is that the American people have entrusted us to proceed in a bi-partisan fashion, as they have trusted the president in the past, on the issues that are most important to them."

High-profile Senate races went to Republican Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina and Democrat Frank Lautenberg in New Jersey, where he was a late replacement for scandal-scarred incumbent Democrat Robert Torricelli, who withdrew.

Republicans gained a Senate seat in Georgia, where Rep. Saxby Chambliss defeated incumbent Democratic Sen. Max Cleland; they lost a seat in Arkansas, where incumbent Tim Hutchinson conceded to state Attorney General Mark Pryor.

But Republicans held onto vulnerable seats in New Hampshire, where U.S. Rep. John Sununu defeated Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, and in Colorado, where Senator Wayne Allard defeated Tom Strickland.

Two Senate seats, in Minnesota and South Dakota, were undecided at 2:30 a.m. Wednesday. Louisiana's race also remained unresolved after Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu was forced into a Dec. 7 runoff by her failure to get more than 50 percent of the vote in her multi-candidate race.

But these results will not affect control of the Senate, where Republicans now have at least 50 seats, with Vice President Dick Cheney available to break ties.

In the House, incumbents prevailed over challengers as the Republicans maintained control of the chamber and seemed poised early Wednesday to add to their slim majority.

At just after 1 a.m., Republicans had won 219 seats to 196 Democrats, giving them control of the chamber. The results dashed what had been Democratic optimism that the House could swing their way.

Democrats were left to put the best face on matters -- and worry about the effect that Republican control could have on such contentious issues as federal judgeships, tax cuts and a possible war against Iraq.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., told KCAL-TV in Los Angeles that she is concerned the Republicans will attempt to roll back environmental laws and women's rights and also appoint overly conservative judges.

"I'm very fearful of that, so we are going to have to be very vigilant," she said. "I am also concerned that he (Bush) has no plan to move the country's economy forward."

Simon Rosenberg, New Democratic Network president, said the party "won some really important governorships, some great wins, and some disappointing losses. We lost some we wish we'd won."

"We still have some work to do to become the majority party," he said. "We'll take a look at what went right, what went wrong, and learn our lessons to prepare for 2004."

Among governor's races, Republican Jeb Bush, the president's brother, was comfortably returned to office in Florida; Democrat Ed Rendell won in Pennsylvania; in Maryland, Republican Rep. Bob Ehrlich defeated Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, becoming the state's first Republican governor since Spiro Agnew.

Republican Gov. George Pataki won a resounding victory in New York. In California Democratic Gov. Gray Davis was leading Republican challenger Bill Simon.

Republicans won the Senate in the 2000 election that made Bush president, but the party lost power a few months later when Republican Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont became an Independent and voted with Democrats on organizational matters.

Except for the three months in 2000 when Jeffords voted as a Republican, the GOP has not controlled the White House and both houses of Congress since the Eisenhower administration from 1952 to 1954. The Democrats last did it from 1992 to 1994 under President Bill Clinton.

The White House took the opportunity to accept the resignation of Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Harvey Pitt. He was under increasing pressure for his handling of the appointment of William Webster to an accounting oversight board, as well as constant bombardment by Democrats who saw him as a symbol of Republicans' connection to this year's wave of corporate scandals.

President Bush, who campaigned heavily for candidates, voted in Crawford, Texas, then returned to the White House with his wife, Laura, and Republican officials to watch results come in -- and celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary.

Fleischer said the president had dinner in the West Sitting Hall, and then was joined by a small number of senior staff. He watched television and received election results from an internal operation set up inside the White House set up by chief advisor Karl Rove.

Bush made more than 30 calls to winners. He also called Maryland Rep. Connie Morella who lost her seat to Democratic challenger Chris Van Hollen.

At 11:45 p.m., Bush walked his dogs, Barney and Spot, made a call to Karl Rove, then retired for the night.

An added twist to the evening came when Voter News Service -- a consortium of major news organizations -- said its system of projecting winners based on exit polls was unreliable.

Ballots were being counted by hand in Minnesota, where former Vice President Walter Mondale joined the race last week after the death of Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone. He faced a close contest with former St. Paul mayor, Republican Norm Coleman.

In South Dakota, Republican John Thune and Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson were locked in a close battle.

Bush spent much of the past few weeks on the campaign trail, logging appearances in more than 20 states to boost GOP candidates and keep the Democrats from taking back the House for the first time since the GOP landslide of 1994. Republicans held 223 seats going into the election.

The Senate was split among 49 Republicans, 49 Democrats and two independents Monday after Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura appointed his former campaign manager, Dean Barkley, an independent, to the seat left vacant by the death of incumbent Wellstone 11 days ago.

Turnout was described as unusually heavy in battleground states. Since 1990, the midterm elections have drawn 33 percent, 37 percent and 33 percent of eligible voters.

A Pew Research Center survey showed local politics -- not national issues such as Iraq, terrorism or even the foundering economy -- were on the minds of voters.

A number of ballot initiatives were also decided Tuesday.

-- Massachusetts voters chose to make English the language of instruction for all students in public schools, effectively ending decades of bilingual instruction programs for immigrants.

-- Drug policy reform activists were disappointed as Western returns came through. An Arizona ballot initiative would have extended the state's current medical marijuana legalization laws and decriminalized possession of small amounts of the drug.

With 80 percent of the precincts reporting, the measure looked set to fail, with 57 percent voting "no."

In Nevada, a controversial measure that would have increased the amount of marijuana that could legally be possessed by all users from 1 ounce to 3 ounces, was also stumbling, with a 60 percent "no" vote at midnight.

Nevada voters, meanwhile, were much more positive about a measure to reaffirm a ban on gay marriage in the state. Sixty-six percent of voters reaffirmed the ban, with 48 percent of precincts reporting.

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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