Bush leads GOP sweep of Congress

By NICHOLAS M. HORROCK, UPI Chief White House Correspondent  |  Nov. 6, 2002 at 2:56 AM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 6 (UPI) -- With a relentless year of campaigning across the United States, President George W. Bush early Wednesday led the Republican Party to an astounding midterm election victory, giving the GOP control of both houses of Congress for the first time in over 40 years.

Victory for the GOP came shortly after 2 a.m. when Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan conceded her race in Missouri to Republican challenger Jim Talent. With 97 percent of Missouri votes counted, Talent had 922,728 and Carnahan had 892,339 votes. There were just under 30,000 votes in the race cast for other candidates.

Not since the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s have the Republicans controlled both the White House and Congress, and many analysts Wednesday credited the president's dynamic leadership for galvanizing his party's faithful in state after state and getting them to the polls.

"Bush has done a substantial job in campaigning for his party, and people will be able to judge this as a positive mark on his presidency," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.

Others, like Mark Shields, the liberal analyst on the CNN program "The Capital Gang," said the Democrats fell behind because they could not "put a face" to oppose Bush. Though the House Democratic leader, Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota have tried to lead their parties, neither seemed to be able to take the helm in the midterms.

Independent voters turn out less in midterm elections, and it is energizing the party faithful that carries the day.

Shortly before 2 a.m., White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters in a conference call that "if Republicans are able to gain seats in the Senate, it will be the first time in history the Republican Party will have taken over the Senate in the first midterm of a presidential term."

"By all accounts, the night is going very well," Fleischer said. "There are several seats that are still up in the air -- Missouri, South Dakota and Minnesota. We may not know for a couple of hours on those states." It was a few moments later that Carnahan pulled out. South Dakota and Minnesota are undecided, and the Senate race in Louisiana is unresolved.

In addition to his 15 trips to Florida to carry his brother Gov. Jeb Bush over the top, the president's visits to Georgia are credited with bringing that state a Republican governor, Sonny Perdue, for the first time in its history and a Senate victory for Saxby Chambliss over incumbent Democrat Sen. Max Cleland, a decorated Vietnam veteran who was seeking his second term in the Senate.

There were other victories the president could personally count as well. He worked almost desperately to further the campaign of Elizabeth Dole -- who won election in North Carolina -- and that of John Sununu who overcame Democrat Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire for the Senate seat there.

Bush, the 55-year-old son of the nation's 41st president, George H. W. Bush, entered the history books early Wednesday as a president who brought historic victories to the GOP.

This is the first time that a party that controls the White House has ever regained the Senate in a midterm election and only the second time that it gained Senate seats. Only once before -- in 1934, when Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal was at its peak of popularity -- had such gains been made. Gains in the House have happened in 1934, 1962 and 1998.

As President George W. Bush and his wife celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary at a small White House dinner Tuesday, the voters of Florida gave the Bushes the first gift of victory for his brother in Florida.

The president and his wife had just returned to the White House after a whirlwind final election push that led Bush to 15 states and his wife to several others. It wound up a year in which he crossed and re-crossed the country dozens of times, both pressing the war on terrorism and campaigning for GOP hopefuls. He attended 67 fundraisers, in which the president raised $141 million, far more than President Bill Clinton's totals in his last midterm campaign.

He and Laura Bush were married 25 years ago Tuesday in Midland, Texas, and as they did shortly after they were married, his wife joined him on the campaign trail over the weekend.

It will be an evening of extraordinary triumph for the president, who had been severely criticized by the Democrats for ignoring the economy and domestic joblessness in favor of his quest to disarm Iraq. The vote Tuesday night may not have been a referendum on Bush's plans to unseat Saddam Hussein, but it did underscore that his style of leading without consulting Congress was supported by the electorate.

The only dark cloud in the president's evening was the resignation of Securities and Exchange Commissioner Harvey L. Pitt, who told the president in a letter Tuesday that the "turmoil surrounding my chairmanship and the agency makes it very difficult for the commissioners and dedicated SEC staffers to perform their critical assignments."

Pitt stepped down after nearly a year of questions about whether he was the right man to regulate business.

The most recent difficulties arose when it was disclosed that former FBI director William Webster, Pitt's choice to head a new board to regulate the accounting industry, had been the chief of the audit committee of a company that was facing an SEC fraud investigation.

But whatever happened to Pitt, it was offset by sometimes-stunning victories that appeared to be rolling in for the Republicans.

At his dinner party Tuesday night, the president entertained Republican congressional leaders and their wives.

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 by chief adviser Karl Rove.

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

Bush quit at 12:45 a.m. to walk his dogs Barney and Spot and made a call to Rove, then retired for the night.

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