Washington is set to be a GOP town

The Republican Party’s renewed control of both Congress and the White House will propel President George W. Bush to pursue an ambitious legislative agenda come January, political analysts have predicted.

In Tuesday’s midterm election, the President’s party defied historical odds by making gains in both legislative chambers.

The GOP acquired a three-seat majority in the Senate by winning a series of close races, making the breakdown 51 Republicans, 48 Democrats and one independent.

The Republican hold in the House of Representatives was also strengthened to 229 seats from a previous total of 223. Democrats faced a net loss of five seats and now comprise a minority of 205. One independent candidate won a House election Tuesday.

A number of gubernatorial wins in traditionally Democratic states such as Massachusetts and Maryland also added to the GOP’s successes Tuesday night.

The Minnesota Senate race, thrust in the national spotlight after the recent plane-crash death of Sen. Paul Wellstone (D), ended early Wednesday morning with a win by Republican Norm Coleman over Wellstone’s replacement, former Senator and Vice President Walter Mondale.

Results in the South Dakota Senate race named incumbent Sen. Tim Johnson (D) the winner by 527 votes over his challenger, Rep. John Thune (R). As this margin of victory was less than the one-quarter of one percent threshold specified by law, Thune may request a recount, although he has said that he will wait until official results are available next week before making his decision.

And in Louisiana, state law will force current Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) into a Dec. 7 runoff against the second-place candidate, as she drew only 46 percent of the vote — four percent less than the one-half of voters needed — against three Republican challengers.

Democratic incumbents lost their seats in Georgia and Missouri, where Sens. Max Cleland and Jean Carnahan were defeated in tight, heavily-funded races.

This election marks the first time ever that Republicans have gained seats in the House during a Republican president’s term. Democrats captured such gains in 1998, under former President Bill Clinton.

Indeed, for almost all of Congress’ history, midterm election losses for the president’s party have been the rule rather than the exception. Political analysts attributed the GOP’s success this year to the surge in Bush’s popularity that began after Sept. 11, 2001 and has yet to significantly dissipate.

The unusual midterm outcome was in part due to the close nature of the 2000 election, which kept weaker Republicans from riding on Bush’s presidential coattails, elections expert and Brookings Institution fellow Sarah Binder said.

“What happens in the off-years is that the president’s party is usually overexposed because there are legislators who should have never been elected,” Binder said. “In 2002, you don’t have this natural set of overexposed seats, so Bush didn’t have those seats to lose.”

As Democrats were unable to match Bush’s fervent campaigning in the final days before the election, they could not secure adequate turnout to attain victory, she said, attributing the GOP win in the Coleman-Mondale Senate battle largely to the President’s last-minute visit to Minnesota.

With this newfound legislative support, Bush will be able to push forward with what is most urgent on his agenda: homeland security, disarmament of Iraq and longer-lasting tax cuts.

The recaptured GOP Senate may also propel retirement announcements from several of the Supreme Court’s more conservative judges, widespread rumors have alleged.

Government Professor Ronald Shaiko said that the GOP ascendancy may may be beneficial to the political scene.

“In general, it’s a healthy outcome for American politics,” Shaiko said. “Frankly, it’s going to give America two years to look at two parties and see how they stand — the Republicans have to find out how to govern and the Democrats need to learn how to be a strong opposition.”

Success in the 2004 election is dependent on which party can better handle the nation’s economy, Shaiko said.

Binder added that the support that the public has given Bush and the GOP will make it even more difficult for a Democrat to launch a presidential campaign in two years.

Not all Republicans, however, were able Tuesday to successfully latch onto Bush’s current support. State Sen. Chris Van Hollen defeated moderate and vulnerable incumbent Rep. Connie Morella, R-Md., for her seat, and former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson defeated Republican John Sanchez for the New Mexico governorship in key Democrat wins Tuesday.

Jessica Spradling contributed to this report.

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