Analysis: Night for President to savor

By MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst  |  Nov. 6, 2002 at 3:13 AM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 6 (UPI) -- President George W. Bush and the Republicans did not win everywhere and everything on Tuesday, but they can be forgiven for believing that they did.

Amid the president's precedent-shattering victory in increasing his party's majority in the House of Representatives and regaining control of the Senate, there were also a clutch of emotionally satisfying victories for him and his GOP in many key races.

Biggest of all arguably was his brother's landslide re-election victory as governor of Florida.

Jeb Bush blew away Democrat Jim McBride, after McBride had been written up by sympathetic liberals in the national press as a serious dark horse challenger with an excellent chance of beating him. But McBride was humiliated in the results.

Much more than family pride was at stake in Florida. The entire November 2000 presidential election hinged on its results and the Republicans had to keep control of the governorship there for the president to have a decent hope of re-election in 2004.

For Florida is the fourth most popular state in the nation, and with both New York and California remaining strong Democratic strongholds in national elections -- Republican George Pataki's re-election notwithstanding -- winning its votes in the Electoral College will be as crucial in 2004 to the GOP as it was in 2000.

The president recognized this in the attention he lavished on the state -- from federal largesse to energetic campaigning for his brother. And his efforts were triumphantly rewarded.

To take a leaf out of the Bible -- the president's favorite book -- "What profiteth a man if he gain the House and the Senate but lose Florida?" The Bush brothers did not lose Florida, and they are going to celebrate retained control of the House and the growing likelihood that they will gain the Senate as well.

Putting icing on the Republican cake in Florida, Jeb Bush's former secretary of state Katherine Harris, who played a central role in the vote-counting cliffhanger drama there two years ago, won election to the House as well.

The president was also happy, in the words of the old song, to have Georgia on his mind. For Democrat Max Cleland, a leading foe of Bush's on the much-disputed Department of Homeland Security legislation, went down to spectacular and unexpected defeat.

Cleland's defeat, despite his being a war veteran and amputee, appears directly related to his stand on the Homeland Security legislation, which was a major issue in his campaign. And his defeat had been a priority for the president.

Up north in Minnesota, former Vice President Walter Mondale at the time of writing appeared heading for his third major political defeat in a row -- counting his 1980 and 1984 humiliations as Democratic running mate and then presidential candidate against the all-conquering Ronald Reagan

Mondale's defeat, little more than a week after he entered the race, obviously owed a great deal to the powerful national tide too. Had liberal Democrat incumbent Sen. Paul Wellstone not been tragically killed in a plane crash with his wife and daughter, he too would most likely have gone down to defeat at the hands of Republican candidate and St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman.

As it was, Wellstone's own heritage appears to have helped pull Mondale down too. The remembrance service for Wellstone at the University of Minnesota last week was transformed by his highly emotional campaign supporters into a partisan and often incoherent political rally. Later opinion polls showed that a full quarter of voters in Minnesota said the spectacle had made them far less inclined to vote Democrat in the Senate race. And the cool, self-possessed Coleman, who kept his dignity and his head in a crucial televised debate with Mondale, looked likely to reap the results.

Down in Missouri, Democrat Jean Carnahan, appointed to the seat won posthumously by her husband after his death in a plane crash six years ago, went down against former Republican Jim Talent, a former congressman.

And while the Bush family rode high with the re-election of the president's brother as governor of Florida, the other great American political clan of the past half century, the liberal Democratic Kennedys, reeled from the humiliating and surprise defeat of their standard bearer Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in her effort to become governor of Maryland.

Townsend, the daughter of the late Sen. Robert Kennedy, had been lieutenant governor of the state for the past eight years under fellow Democrat Gov. Parris Glendenning. She was torpedoed by Republican challenger Bob Ehrlich despite her $6 million campaign chest, a strong early lead in the polls, and a no-holds-barred burst of intense negative campaigning.

But Townsend could not shake her share in responsibility for a towering $1.7 billion state annual deficit when she and Glendenning had previously enjoyed a healthy surplus. Her Kennedy scalp was especially gratifying to Republicans. It gave them a powerful political base in the state, far outweighing any chagrin they felt at liberal eight-term Republican Rep. Connie Morella going down to defeat in Montgomery County to Democratic state Sen. Christopher Van Hollen.

Ironically, even this result may well prove pleasing to the celebrating resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. For Morella had long been a thorn in the side of her far more conservative party leaders in the House, repeatedly breaking ranks with them on such kety issues as abortion and gun control. They thought they needed her to win to retain their crucial control of the House, but instead could celebrate the likelihood of an increased House majority -- without her in it.

In New Hampshire, a rising GOP star, Republican Rep. John Sununu, won a relatively narrow but still decisive Senate victory against Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, dashing high Democratic hopes that she would win the seat. Sununu is also the son of his namesake, the former chief of staff to President Bush's father, former President George Herbert Walker Bush.

Even in the traditionally liberal Northeast and Eastern Seaboard, the GOP won satisfying triumphs for the president. Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Maryland, the three states that gave the biggest majorities in the nation to Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore two years ago, all elected Republican governors.

It was by no means a landslide total sweep for the Republicans. The Democrats picked up a number of statehouses, including the major prizes of Illinois and Pennsylvania. And veteran Democrat power figures in the Senate such as John Kerry in Massachusetts, Carl Levin in Michigan and Joe Biden in Delaware all coasted to comfortable re-election wins. But it will be a hostile, Republican-controlled Senate they will return to.

The famously teetotaling Bush can certainly be forgiven for toasting his and his party's achievements in this election, even if he just does it in tomato juice.

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