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Election 2002

GOP Takes Over Senate

Republicans Retain Their Majority in the House

November 06, 2002|Janet Hook | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — In a significant victory for President Bush, Republicans early today wrested control of the Senate from the Democrats and retained their majority in the House.

The president had put his prestige on the line to campaign for Republican candidates around the country, trying to translate his own popularity into political gains for the GOP.

Republicans may have expanded their six-seat majority in the House, once returns from all the races are in. That would defy historic trends, because the president's party usually loses House seats in midterm elections.

"President Bush and the Republican Party tonight have made history," said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.

Democrats, having once again fallen short of regaining the House majority status they lost in 1994, looked to the future. "Tomorrow begins the election of 2004," said House Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco).

The Senate power shift came when Sen. Jean Carnahan (D-Mo.) conceded defeat to GOP Rep. Jim Talent, making him the 50th Republican senator in the new Congress. Even if Republicans pick up no other seats -- two races in South Dakota and Minnesota remained too close to call early today -- Republicans would control a Senate split 50-50 between the parties because Vice President Dick Cheney has the power to cast tie-breaking votes in the chamber.

The Republican takeover of the Senate, which many analysts had not considered likely heading into election day, restores the power the GOP enjoyed for the first half of 2001 when it passed Bush's sweeping tax cut.

Republicans lost control of the Senate in midyear when Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont quit the GOP to become an independent, giving Democrats a one-seat majority.

Since then, the Democratic-controlled Senate has proved a formidable obstacle to Bush's legislative agenda, most recently slowing action on his proposed Department of Homeland Security.

That's a big reason Bush has spent so much time campaigning and raising money for GOP candidates, traveling to 17 cities in 15 states in the last five days of the campaign alone.

Now, with Republicans controlling the Senate floor schedule and chairing its committees, Bush will have far more leverage in pushing his agenda of more tax cuts, higher defense spending and conservative judges as he prepares for his own reelection bid in 2004.

"This is an enormous asset in terms of his being able to define the agenda in 2003," said GOP pollster Bill McInturff. "This guy still has juice."

The dramatic and unexpected power shift was a fitting coda to an election campaign that has been anything but ordinary. Candidates and the national political parties have been buffeted by a series of traumatic events, such as last year's terrorist attacks, the plunging stock market, a spate of corporate scandals and the threat of war with Iraq. And one of the nation's most closely watched Senate races was roiled less than two weeks before election day by the death of Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.).

Although Republican control of both the House and Senate are assured, the precise breakdown will not be known until all the ballots are tallied.

Heading into election day, the breakdown in the House was 223 Republicans, 208 Democrats and one independent who usually votes with the Democrats, with three vacant seats. After Wellstone's death, the Senate consisted of 49 Democrats, 49 Republicans and one independent who sides with the Democrats. (Dean Barkley, the independent appointed to temporarily replace Wellstone, was sworn in Tuesday but will serve only a limited time, perhaps only a few weeks.)

Tallying Tuesday's voting for the House, Associated Press reported that Republicans had won 223 seats and were leading in four others.

Two Senate races remained too close to call: the contest in South Dakota between Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson and Republican Rep. John R. Thune; and the battle in Minnesota between former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, who replaced Wellstone as the Democratic candidate, and Republican Norm Coleman. Early today, Coleman was leading but the count was slow.

Carnahan's concession put Republicans over the top, but it was just one of a series of bad breaks for the Democrats through the night. Earlier, in Georgia, GOP Rep. Saxby Chambliss scored an upset victory over Sen. Max Cleland. Republicans also managed to hold onto all five of the open Senate seats previously held by the GOP -- in Texas, North Carolina, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Republicans won another important victory in Colorado, where Sen. Wayne Allard won a hard-fought reelection fight. About the only good news for Senate Democrats came when GOP Sen. Tim Hutchinson of Arkansas, battered by controversy over the divorce of his wife and his marriage to a former aide, was defeated by Democrat Mark Pryor.

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