- The Washington Times - Monday, November 4, 2002

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. The White House sought yesterday to lower expectations for tomorrow's elections, saying a loss of five House seats still would be the best midterm performance in 40 years.
Although the party that controls the White House nearly always loses congressional seats in midterm elections, new nationwide canvasses show that Republicans could pick up seats in the House and still have a fighting chance to win control of the Senate.
But a senior Bush administration official tried to dampen excessive optimism by Republicans yesterday.
"If the Republicans keep the House of Representatives, it would be a pretty extraordinary accomplishment. If they lose less than five seats in the House, it will be the first time since 1962 that that's happened," said the official, who asked to remain anonymous.
A Republican gain of House seats would buck the trend in post-Reconstruction American politics. Only twice since Reconstruction in 1934 and 1998 has the party holding the White House gained House seats in midterm elections.
A nationwide district-by-district breakdown of House races shows that Republicans could gain as many as three House seats, if all favored candidates win and the close races split evenly between the parties.
Polls show five or six close Senate races, but Republicans would have to take at least four to regain control. Several races suddenly have grown surprisingly tight.
The senior White House official sought yesterday to soften expectations in the Senate as well.
"If the Republicans take control of the Senate, it would be the first time in American history that the president's party took control of the Senate in the first off-year election," the official said.
Still, the official said, "there are a number of Senate races in the country that are going to be settled by a small number of votes."
Should Democrats defy predictions and pick up seats in the House, that would be the first time in history that any party has gained seats four elections in a row.
"I will repeat, this is going to be settled by a relatively small number of votes, potentially, and a relatively small number of contests in both the House and the Senate. And it's going to be a close election," the official said.
Coming two years after the most divisive presidential election in decades, which ended in the Supreme Court, the official said left-wing groups have gone all out to defeat Republicans.
"We will see the largest expenditures in any off-year election ever by labor, by the National Abortion Rights Action League, by the Sierra Club, by the League of Conservation Voters, by the National Organization for Women, by the People for the American Way, by a whole host of liberal special interest groups. We will see them, in some instances, spending more than they did in the 2000 election," the official said.
Whether Republican candidates win or lose will affect Mr. Bush's ability to push his agenda through Congress, but the White House official said the outcome will not reflect the president's "coattail" strength.
"The contests will be decided by local issues and the quality of the candidates and the quality of their campaigns," the official said but acknowledged that the president "obviously helps showcase candidates in a way that they can't showcase themselves."
In the past few days, Mr. Bush has done just that, storming into nearly every battleground state to give Republican candidates the edge on Election Day. His approval rating 67 percent of Americans say he is doing a good job, according to one poll is one of the highest for a president in a midterm election, which analysts say will allow him to pull some candidates to victory.
Yesterday his 15-state, five-day campaign swing took Mr. Bush to Springfield, Ill.; St. Paul, Minn.; and Sioux Falls, where he hopes to boost Republican Senate candidate Rep. John Thune in the home state of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
Today, the president delivers a speech in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, then travels to St. Charles, Mo.; Bentonville, Ark.; and Dallas. He votes tomorrow at the fire station in Crawford, Texas, before returning to Washington.

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