- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 10, 2002

Democrats braggingly predicted a triumph in the midterm elections.
Not only would they gain control of both the House and Senate, Democrats said, but also make Florida's Republican governor a hood ornament for their bandwagon to oust his brother from the White House in two years.
"Jeb Bush is gone," vowed Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, who guaranteed that result with a $1,000 pledge from his own pocket when offered a chance to retract those words.
But a funny thing happened along the way:
Although history was on the Democrats' side, this time voters sided with a White House incumbent, George W. Bush, who reached his first midterm Election Day with a record 63 percent approval rating.
Even with active campaigning by former President Bill Clinton, Democrats failed in their plan to avenge President Bush's protracted Florida win in 2000 by humiliating his brother Jeb in 2002 and taking control of Congress.
Instead, the Florida governor's runaway re-election made him the poster boy for that rarest of electoral successes a tour de force by Republicans that gave the president a second reason to remember his 25th wedding anniversary.
It was the only time since Democrats and Republicans first contested the presidency in 1860 that the party of the winner consolidated control of Congress two years later, at his first midterm mark.
And it had been 68 years since the party of a first-term president gained seats in both the House and Senate in the midterm elections.
The stock market also offers a payoff for the achievement, which is more good news for a White House struggling to overcome the severe economic downturns since the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The New York Stock Exchange responded positively in both 1934 and 1998, the only times when the party holding the White House previously gained overall congressional strength in a modern midterm election.
"On both occasions, three weeks later the Dow has gained an average of 6.7 percent," says Gibbons Burke, founder of MarketHistory.com. "By eight weeks after those elections, the Dow has extended those gains to an average of 7.7 percent both times."

Out the window
The outcome Tuesday rewarded an extraordinary personal effort by a president who Democrats said had no coattails to help fellow Republicans gain office because voters supposedly resented how he won the White House two years ago.
But Mr. McAuliffe, the Democratic chairman, knew better.
"They had a wartime president with the highest sustained approval ratings in history, who made these elections his number-one domestic priority," Mr. McAuliffe told colleagues on the Democratic National Committee after the unprecedented loss. "He spent the year raising record amounts of money and the final three weeks stumping relentlessly for Republican candidates."
In so doing, Mr. Bush who barnstormed 16 states in the final three days became the first chief executive ever to win back the Senate in a midterm election.
The president, in a news conference Thursday, humbly credited the candidates and their stands on local issues.
"Candidates win elections because they're good candidates. Not just because they happen to have the president for a friend," Mr. Bush said.
Even so, he set the standard against which future politicians will be measured. Five previous presidents Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon and Ronald Reagan all gained Senate strength in their first midterm elections. But control did not change on any of those occasions, and all but Roosevelt lost ground in the House.
Across the nation, the results of last week's elections like no others in living memory threw all the rules and expectations out the window and tempted some prognosticators to jump out after them.
"It couldn't happen, but it really did happen," says Michael Lewis-Beck, a University of Iowa political science professor who co-wrote "Forecasting Elections" and had predicted a net Republican loss of eight seats in the House and three in the Senate.
To the befuddlement of Mr. Lewis-Beck, who says he is hiding while figuring out how to explain his miscalculation, Republicans locked up two additional Senate seats to take control no matter how the two seats that remained in doubt are resolved.
Louisiana voters will decide Dec. 7 in a runoff between Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, the Democratic incumbent who got 46 percent of the vote Tuesday, and Suzanne Terrell, the top vote-getter among three Republicans who together garnered 51 percent.
South Dakota is rechecking county reports and considering a recount for Sen. Tim Johnson's 527-vote victory over his Republican challenger, Rep. John Thune.
Republicans picked up at least five more seats in the House, which they already controlled with 223 seats to the Democrats' 210. Counting continued in two other races: A Louisiana seat will be decided in a Dec. 7 runoff between Democrat Rodney Alexander and Republican Lee Fletcher. A race in Colorado was within recount margins.

Breaking a trend
The last time Republicans controlled the House, Senate and White House was the end of 1954 under President Eisenhower, when George W. Bush was 8 years old.
Although the Republicans' victory Tuesday might not seem an elephant stampede, they captured about 53 percent of voters nationwide for federal office and made a mark on state races as well.
Republicans enjoyed net gains of about 200 seats in state legislatures, although a loss of about 350 for the party in the White House is customary in midterm elections. Even FDR's massive sweep of 1934 didn't do that well; Democrats gained only 50 state legislature seats.
Of the 7,382 state legislative seats across the nation, 84 percent were up for grabs with contests in every state except New Jersey, Virginia, Mississippi and Louisiana.
Democrats lost control of eight state chambers the Senates in Arizona, Colorado and Wisconsin and the Houses in Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina and Texas (for the first time since 1870). Illinois Republicans will surrender the state Senate to the Democrats.
The Republicans were helped in areas where redistricting was done by courts and commissions rather than by state legislatures, says Tim Storey, elections analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures.
"But the popularity of the president does play down to these races," Mr. Storey says. "George W. Bush broke a trend that reaches back to the 1930s, as far back as our data goes, and actually gained at least 200 seats instead of losing 350."

The Bush bandwagon
"The midterm curse seems to be over, and I've been trying to figure out why that's the case," says Mr. Lewis-Beck, the University of Iowa professor, who notes that Democrats often did not stake out distinct positions.
"The blurring of issues and distinctions between the parties is making it harder and harder to tell the difference between Tweedledee and Tweedledum," he says. "So many Democrats were jumping on the Bush bandwagon, trying to sound more Republican than the Republicans, that it was hard for voters to tell the difference."
The sniper shootings in the Washington area also influenced results, argues Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, which surveyed 23 states during the election cycle.
"The shootings hijacked the news window just when Democrats would have had two weeks to tell how President George W. Bush messed up the economy, and to shift the debate from Iraq," Mr. Coker says. "The sniper pre-empted everything, everywhere, just when undecideds are moving one way or the other."
Mr. Coker called the outcome in the Florida governor's race 10 days out, pinpointing Democrat Bill McBride's share of the vote at 43 percent. The weekend before the election he also predicted Republican Norman Coleman's defeat of a last-minute Democratic candidate, former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, in the Senate race in Minnesota.
The Minnesota race was decided when a televised memorial service for Sen. Paul Wellstone, his wife and daughter degenerated into a rowdy Democratic rally, Mr. Coker says.
"We took our survey right after the memorial service," the pollster says. "That was the pivotal moment. Man, did we get some angry people. They were just livid."
So livid that voters handed Republicans a sweep comparable to the Minnesota Massacre of 1978, in which they made huge gains in federal and state offices. This time Republicans won contests for the Senate, governor, secretary of state and auditor, and gained in the legislature.

Historic proportions
Only once before had a newly elected president's party gained seats in both the Senate and House in the midterm election. In 1934, Roosevelt picked up nine House seats for the Democrats and increased their Senate strength from 69 to 79 seats.
President Clinton was among chief executives whose party lost big in their first midterm election, as the Republicans' "Contract With America" proved pivotal to their taking control of the Senate and House in 1994. Mr. Clinton, like Mr. Bush, also saw his party gain strength in both houses in a midterm election, in 1998, but he had been in office for six years.
President James Monroe pulled off gains in both houses in both midterm elections of his two terms, in 1818 and 1822. In the latter election, Monroe's Democrat-Republican Party achieved control by an amazing 92 percent in the Senate and 88 percent in the House.
Average results in a president's first midterm election cost his party a loss of 27 seats in both houses.
In addition to determining who controls committee chairmanships, each seat means a net change of two votes on the floor. When Democrats lose five seats to Republicans, for example, that increases party-line margins by 10 votes.
Democrats tripled spending nationwide in hopes of averting that outcome and capitalizing on the historic trend, Mr. McAuliffe said.
Estimated overall spending in the election cycle topped $1 billion, a huge leap from previous elections in which the presidency was not at stake. In Florida alone, Democrats spent $20 million while Republicans more than doubled that outlay with an estimated $42 million, the Miami Herald reported.
Nationwide, though, Mr. Bush raised a record $141 million and made the 2002 elections a plebiscite on his presidency, including bolstering the economy, fighting terrorism and disarming Iraq.
With Republicans occupying every committee chairmanship on Capitol Hill come January, White House lobbyists expect more receptivity for the president's legislative agenda including creation of a consolidated Cabinet agency for homeland security and his nominees for judgeships.
Seven of the present Supreme Court justices were chosen by Republican presidents, although two of those usually line up with Clinton nominees. Democrats have an edge in judges on lower federal courts, even after Mr. Bush has put 66 judges in the district courts and 14 in circuit courts of appeals.
Democratic presidents named 52.5 percent of the 615 district judges, according to data from the Alliance for Justice, which opposes conservative judicial nominees. Republican presidents nominated 80 of the 151 sitting circuit judges, or 53 percent.
"I would anticipate that for the 108th Congress the process will be speeded up considerably," says Sheldon Goldman, a political science professor who tracks the judiciary at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
"We're going to confirm some judges that have been delayed, abused and really treated very unfairly," vowed Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, who likely will return as Senate majority leader.
Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice, says she recognizes the possibility that the Earth has tipped on her key issue. She saw the elections as a referendum on appointing Supreme Court justices "in the mold" of conservatives Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
"No one should interpret [the] election results as giving the president a free ride to reshape the judiciary," she says. "If the president tries to pack the courts with conservative ideologues beholden to special interests and committed to turning back the clock on Americans' rights, fair-minded senators must invoke their constitutional 'advise and consent' power and stand firm against such nominees."
Mr. Bush, speaking on the high priority of filling vacancies on the federal bench, called for "a process that will get rid of the old bitterness."
He advocates a system in which judges announce intentions to retire a year in advance, giving six months to the president and six months to the Senate to choose and confirm a replacement.

A fundamental weakness
The longer-term political effect of party losses in Congress is less understood than are the immediate upheavals. Large losses in one house or another at their first midterm elections did not seem to hurt Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan or Clinton two years later.
And, despite widespread focus on the effects of the war on terrorism and potential war with Iraq, wartime scenarios previously have not deflected presidents' "midterm curse."
Crushing defeats in first midterm elections occurred just after the Korean War began, when Democrats under President Truman lost six Senate seats and 20 in the House, and during the Vietnam buildup in 1966, when Democrats under President Johnson lost three seats in the Senate and 47 in the House.
Lesser party losses were sustained during foreign conflicts by President Nixon in 1970, when Republicans lost 12 House seats but gained two in the Senate, and by the first President Bush during the buildup in Saudi Arabia for the Persian Gulf war, when Republicans lost one Senate seat and seven in the House.
Surprise about the outcome last week was fed by pre-election reports and muddled talk of a 50-50 nation, and what Andrew Kohut, director of Pew Research Center, called an inscrutable mood.
But Republican National Committee strategists saw a fundamental weakness on the other side.
RNC polling adviser Matthew Dodd outlined it this way in an Oct. 15 memo to Republican National Committee Chairman Marc Racicot:
"There is no national Democratic leader with overwhelmingly positive ratings. Most of the Democrat Party leaders have significant unfavorable ratings or weak or anemic favorable ratings. The last Democratic nominee for president, Al Gore, has high negatives and net unfavorables. This is a unique and dangerous position for the opposition party."
Analyses of voter behavior Tuesday were hindered by the absence of comprehensive voter information from Voter News Service exit polls, but many spinners nonetheless used racial or ethnic reasons to explain a loss. Overall turnout was up slightly, perhaps bolstered by Republican voter drives.
Democrats blamed intimidation of black voters for their loss of the governorship in Maryland, and gave similar excuses for Republican Elizabeth Dole's Senate victory in North Carolina. But Mr. McAuliffe, the DNC chairman, credited black votes for carrying Democratic candidates in Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee.
Mr. McBride had overwhelming support for his Florida gubernatorial campaign in black precincts but black turnout was way down, the Miami Herald reported, about 43 percent compared with 72 percent two years ago. Turnout among whites and other racial groups in Florida was put at 55 percent.
However, Jeb Bush's margin of victory was so high he would have prevailed easily even if every black registered voter in Florida had gone to the polls and cast a ballot for Mr. McBride.
Low turnout among blacks in Louisiana also was cited as a factor in forcing runoffs there.
Mr. McAuliffe claimed victory among Hispanics and said Republicans failed to muster a third as many Hispanic votes as two years earlier.
"All that Republican effort, all the money, all the pandering for the Hispanic vote? It added up to absolutely nothing," the Democratic chairman said.

A big shadow
That's not the way outgoing House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt saw it.
Although he announced that he would quit his leadership post after the defeat at the polls, the Missouri Democrat said his party's emphasis on "kitchen table issues" was overshadowed by unique patriotic overtones in the wake of September 11.
"You had the backdrop of 9/11, a lot of patriotism, legitimate patriotism and concern about national security and safety, and the president's popularity is very high," Mr. Gephardt said.
William Kristol, chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle under the first President Bush and now editor of the National Standard, found himself in rare agreement. The September 11 factor caught him by surprise.
"No one seriously thinks this could have happened if you hadn't had 9/11," Mr. Kristol says. "I underestimated how much Bush as commander in chief would be worth."
Market historian Gibbons Burke says the national outcome says something to the doubters of the presidential results in 2000.
"If there was any question before about the legitimacy of the Bush presidency, I think this election has ratified his selection," Mr. Burke says. "Anyone refusing to accept Bush as their president can now be said to be decamping outside the perimeter within which reasonable people can disagree, and they should be viewed as such."

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