- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2006

CRAWFORD, Texas — President Bush yesterday did his part to keep his party in control of Congress — voting for a slate of Republicans at the local fire station — before returning to the White House, where he will watch election returns into the night to see which party will control Capitol Hill for his final two years as president.

As he departed aboard Air Force One en route to Washington, the president flashed photographers a thumbs-up, exhibiting an optimism that some of his closest advisers in the White House do not altogether share. Even Vice President Dick Cheney said in the weeks before yesterday’s election that Republicans had only “a good shot at holding the House.”

But Mr. Bush, who barnstormed the country in a six-day, 10,000-mile campaign swing in the final days, said that whichever way the vote goes, Americans need to participate in the political process.

“We live in a free society, and our government is only as good as the willingness of our people to participate in it. And therefore, no matter what your party affiliation, or if you don’t have a party affiliation, do your duty. Cast your ballot and let your voice be heard,” said Mr. Bush, wearing an “I Voted” sticker on his chest and embracing his wife, Laura.

While he said he planned to “watch the results” tonight, the early-to-bed, early-to-rise president planned to make no statement on the outcome of the elections. His spokesman, Tony Snow, told reporters aboard the presidential plane: “You usually hear from him the day after an election, and you’ll be hearing from him tomorrow.”

Still, the president plans to make phone calls throughout the night to House leaders and candidates for whom he has campaigned. And his top advisers, including senior political adviser Karl Rove, will gather in the White House to keep track of the election returns.

The president campaigned hard to keep Republicans in control of Congress, raising $193 million at about 90 fundraisers for Republican candidates, mostly at private events closed to the media. In the final 11 days, Mr. Bush visited 15 cities for public rallies, all in states he won in 2004. The strategy: Turn out the base and energize Republicans to persuade others to vote.

Before Election Day, political analysts predicted that Democrats would take control of the House, picking up at least the 15 seats necessary to do so — and perhaps many more. The Senate also appeared in play, with Democrats needing just six seats. But polls in the final days showed Republicans picking up support and closing the gap in tight races, prompting the president to challenge conventional wisdom.

“We’re closing strong in this election because the American people have finally figured out our tax cuts work, and the Democrats are going to raise your taxes,” he said at a rally Monday in Arkansas. “We have a plan for victory, and part of that plan is to make sure Republicans control the House and the Senate.”

Indeed, the fate of his agenda — not to mention the course of the war in Iraq — depends on who controls Congress. Even though Mr. Bush has been unable to persuade the Republican-controlled House and Senate to support his “guest worker” program on immigration or his call to overhaul Social Security, many of his other initiatives — especially his tax cuts, many of which expire in 2010 — face fierce opposition should Democrats take control.

But in his final campaign rally in Dallas on Monday night, Mr. Bush pleaded with Republicans — whom some pollsters say are dispirited and unenthused about this year’s midterm elections — to sprint to the finish.

“Stick with us and the country will be better off,” the president told thousands of foot-stomping, cheering Republicans at a sports arena.

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