President Bush's show of strength in Tuesday's election shook up Washington yesterday -- shifting the balance of power, resetting the legislative agenda and ending the eight-year reign of House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.).
Gephardt plans to announce today that he will not seek another term as party leader. Elected in the aftermath of the Republican takeover of the House in 1994, Gephardt steadily chipped away at the GOP's margin until he seemed in striking distance of becoming speaker. Instead, his party lost seats in the House on Tuesday as control of the Senate slipped away in a rare triumph by a president in a midterm election.
Fueled by the fundraising prowess and vigorous campaigning of the president, Republicans captured the Senate with at least 51 seats -- one seat, in Louisiana, will not be decided until a Dec. 7 run off. The GOP added at least four seats to its majority in the House (the count stood last night at 227 Republicans to 205 Democrats, with one independent and two undecided races). And Republicans thwarted Democratic hopes of gaining a majority among the nation's governors.
Gephardt's move rings the opening bell on the 2004 presidential campaign, as would-be Democratic nominees jump up from the wreckage to try to rally their dispirited party. Gephardt and Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) have both been seen as formidable candidates for the nomination. But given the failure of the party on Tuesday, a leadership position may be more of an impediment than an advantage.
In contrast to the scrambling all around him, Bush basked quietly yesterday in his achievements as Campaigner in Chief. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said the president chose silence after his Election Day gains because he felt that "the most appropriate way to mark the day would be with a touch of graciousness."
Fleischer relayed the president's only official reaction. Addressing his senior staff yesterday morning, Bush said: "The credit goes to the candidates and to those who focused on changing the tone, people who want to work together to get things done."
But Democrats joined Republicans in crediting Bush's vigorous fundraising and his willingness to gamble his own popularity in an effort to lift Republicans in tight races. "I'm not sure what we did wrong," Democratic National Committee Chairman Terence McAuliffe said in a television interview. "We faced a very popular president who campaigned more than any other president."
Minnesota sealed Bush's success yesterday morning when former St. Paul mayor Norm Coleman (R) -- a candidate handpicked by the White House -- was crowned the winner of the Senate seat left open after the death of Sen. Paul D. Wellstone (D) in an airplane crash. Coleman's narrow win over former vice president Walter F. Mondale (D) ensured at least a one-vote majority for Republicans come January.
The Minnesota win, after a long night of counting ballots, capped an impressive list of GOP successes, especially in light of a century of political history. With few exceptions, presidents lose power in Congress in their first midterm elections. By picking up seats in both the House and Senate, Bush managed an accomplishment matched only once in the past 100 years -- by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934.
The Republican gains in Congress, though relatively few in number -- two or three in the Senate and four to six in the House -- involve such high stakes that leaders in both parties were only beginning to figure out the implications. They felt their way through the day with some of the dazed wariness of survivors picking over a battlefield.
But it was clear that Bush's congressional agenda, stymied by the election, is suddenly very much alive -- and some of it might even pass in the upcoming lame-duck session. New tax cuts will be on the table, the creation of a Cabinet-level homeland security agency is unstuck, prospects rose for a targeted prescription drug benefit -- on a much smaller scale than the Democrats favor. A slate of appellate judges, including several controversial conservatives, will likely be confirmed after more than a year of waiting in the Democratic Senate.
Reorganization of the Senate will also mean a new cast of committee chairmen and key staff members -- which in turn will create new centers of power among Washington's lobbyists and interest groups.
But the GOP majority will not be large enough to ram legislation through the Senate over Democratic objections, Daschle pointed out. While promising to seek "common ground" with the Republican majority, the Democratic leader made it clear yesterday that his party will continue to fight.
"The Republicans are going to have the opportunity now to move their agenda and we'll see what happens. We're not going away." Daschle said on CBS yesterday morning. "We're going to stand up for the things we believe in. It's going to be important for us to continue that fight, even though we're in the minority."
Senate GOP Leader Trent Lott (Miss.) said he would prefer to push any fights into the new Congress in January, and will use the lame-duck session to deal with issues on which both sides agree.
Among Democrats, the day after the election was the first day of a donnybrook to define the Democratic strategy for the 2004 presidential campaign.
Party insiders fired off public and private memos arguing that Democrats failed in Tuesday's elections because they were too liberal or not liberal enough. This battle -- a recurring and unresolved issue for the party -- may be fought next in the House, where liberal Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is planning to challenge moderate Rep. Martin Frost (D-Tex.) to succeed Gephardt as minority leader.
A number of races remained unresolved; as the day wore on, the books were closed on several. In the Louisiana Senate race, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) failed to win a majority of the votes on Tuesday, so she faces a runoff election on Dec. 7 against Republican Suzanne Terrell.
South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson (D) appeared to have eked out a hair's-breadth win over Rep. John Thune (R) in one of the nation's closest races. But election officials were canvassing the votes to recheck the numbers. If Johnson's win holds up and Landrieu is reelected next month, the new Senate would have 51 Republicans, 48 Democrats and one independent, a net loss of two Democratic seats.
Democrats held on to the governor's office in Oregon after an unexpectedly close race. But they lost their hopes of winning a majority of the nation's governorships when Doug Racine (D) threw in the towel in his race against Jim Douglas (R) in Vermont. Racine's decision kept the race from being decided by the state legislature after both men fell short of a majority of the votes.
In Arizona, Attorney General Janet Napolitano (D) was declared the winner in her race for governor nearly a full day after the polls closed.
This left one governorship up in the air -- way up in the air. In a race that had always tended toward the quirky, Alabama Gov. Donald Siegelman (D) and his challenger, Rep. Bob Riley (R) both claimed victory. Then both men appointed transition team leaders. Unofficial results indicated that 3,000 votes separated them, with Riley holding the slender lead.
If Riley turns out to be the winner, Republicans will retain a majority of the governorships -- something few, if any, political strategists thought possible going into Election Day. Though the Democrats picked up the top job in some important industrial states -- Michigan, Illinois and Pennsylvania -- they fell far short of what they hoped to achieve.
For one thing, the president's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) woke up yesterday fresh from a landslide victory, despite weeks of boasting by McAuliffe and others that he would pay for his role in the bitter presidential election dispute of 2000. Just to the north, Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes (D) woke up a lame duck, having been trounced by Republican George E. "Sonny" Perdue in the biggest upset of a surprising election.
A preliminary analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures found that the GOP tide ran even deeper than that. For the first time on record, a president's party gained state legislative seats in a midterm election. As a result of Tuesday's voting, the conference found, Republicans will take over the Texas House for the first time since 1870 and the Missouri House for the first time since 1955.
"Republicans could end up with a majority of all seats for the first time since 1954," said conference analyst Tim Storey.
Contrary to gloomy predictions, voter turnout was not quite as bad as it was in the last midterm election, according to analyst Curtis Gans of the nonpartisan Committee for the Study of the American Electorate. Roughly 40 percent of voting-age citizens cast ballots, Gans estimates -- a total of 77 million -- compared with less than 38 percent in 1998.
Turnout was strong in such places as Florida (up 6 percent over 1998), New Hampshire (up 12 percent), Missouri (up 6 percent) and Massachusetts (up 5 percent). Gans credited competitive races and strong voter-mobilization efforts -- and gave a nod to the president's personal popularity.
"The Republicans nationalized the campaign, and the Democrats did not," he said.
Fears that the election would be a fiasco of failing machines and charges of fraud turned out to be overblown. While run-of-the-mill election glitches popped up around the country -- from an intoxicated election judge outside Chicago to some San Francisco polling places temporarily running out of ballots -- there was nothing on the scale of the Florida crisis in 2000, or even Florida's troubles in its September primary.
New electronic and touch-screen voting equipment fared reasonably well in Georgia, suburban Maryland, Houston and even South Florida. The biggest setback may have been in Fort Worth, where paper ballots had to be recounted because of a programming error in the counting software.
Results were not available election night in Fort Worth or San Antonio, where the volume of two-page ballots slowed counting. Local candidates were left waiting until Wednesday for results, but in the statewide races, Republican candidates fared so well, the slow ballots made little difference.