Mid-term Congress results give Bush new mandate

 

US: Republicans won full control of the US Congress in mid-term elections, regaining power in the Senate and increasing their slim majority in the House of Representatives.

With counting of votes in Tuesday's poll almost complete last night, the Republicans had a 51- 48 majority in the Senate, with one seat outstanding, and were heading for a majority of around 20 in the House of Representatives, which has 435 seats.

The result gives President Bush a new mandate to press ahead with his conservative legislative agenda and the conduct of any military action against Iraq.

The White House press secretary, Mr Ari Fleischer, said the first priority would be passage of legislation creating the Homeland Security Department, which Democrats had opposed because of union objections to its conditions for government employees.

Items that had been blocked by the Senate will now get new life, including the appointment of conservative judges, an energy plan calling for drilling in Alaska's wildlife refuge, new policies on terrorism insurance and prescription- drug coverage, and Mr Bush's "faith-based" initiative to boost religious charities. The president also has a greater chance of extending last year's tax cuts and cutting business regulations.

White House officials said the new Congress will be asked to give priority to a new economic stimulus package early next year. "Republicans have the keys to the car and we're going to have to take action and continue to work for economic growth," a White House official said.

The moment of Republican victory came just before 2 a.m. yesterday when Democratic Senator Jean Carnahan of Missouri telephoned her Republican opponent Jim Talent to concede defeat, putting Republicans into the lead in the Senate, where the Democrats previously had a majority of one.

In addition, Republican Saxby Chambliss took a seat from the Democrats in Georgia and former Democratic vice-president Walter Mondale failed to secure the Minnesota seat left vacant by the death of Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone in an air crash.

In the 34 Senate races being contested the two bright spots for the Democrats were in Arkansas, where Mark Pryor beat Republican Senator Tim Hutchinson, and in South Dakota, where Mr Bush received a setback when his personal choice, John Thune, was defeated by Democratic Senator Tim Johnson. Johnson won by a mere 527 votes out of more than 334,000 cast.

In North Carolina, Elizabeth Dole, wife of 1996 Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole, defeated former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles.

The Republicans also won New Hampshire, where John Sununu defeated Democratic Governor Jeanne Shaheen.

In Texas, attorney general John Cornyn defeated former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk, who was trying to become the first African-American from Texas elected to the Senate.

In New Jersey, the Democrats scored a significant victory when former senator Frank Lautenberg defeated Republican Doug Forrester after Lautenberg (78), was put on the ballot to replace Senator Robert Torricelli, who resigned over ethics problems.

The only Senate race left undecided was Louisiana, where Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu faces a December 7th run-off. Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said Mr Bush's very high approval ratings were a critical factor.

In gubernatorial races, the president's brother, Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, easily saw off a challenge from Democrat Bill McBride, who three weeks ago seemed to be closing the gap. The Republicans also pulled off a big surprise by ousting Georgia Governor Roy Barnes and in Massachusetts, Republican business executive Mitt Romney defeated state treasurer Shannon O'Brien.

In Maryland Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a daughter of Robert Kennedy, was defeated in a major shock by Republican Robert Ehrlich, bringing her political career to an abrupt halt. In New York Republican Governor George Pataki easily won re-election.

But the Democrats gained the governorships in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Michigan, key states in the battle for the 2004 presidential election. Veteran senators in both parties easily won re-election, including Democrats Joseph Biden in Delaware, John Kerry in Massachusetts and Tom Harkin in Iowa, and Republicans Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, Chuck Hagel in Nebraska, Pete Domenici in New Mexico and John Warner in Virginia.

Going into the elections, the Senate had 49 Democrats, 49 Republicans and two independents. In the House, Republicans had 223 seats to 208 for the Democrats, with one independent and three vacancies.

The new Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said the results exceeded his expectations. The Republicans "have a lot of agenda left," including boosting homeland security, improving the economy and working on energy, retirement and prescription-drug policies. "It will feel good to be on offence here," he said.

Outgoing majority leader Tom Daschle said the war on terrorism and uncertainty surrounding Iraq drowned out the Democrats' message on the economy.

"It was very tough at times to get our message out, to break through," Terry McAuliffe said. "The president now has to deliver. We have a horrible economy, people worried about their jobs. He has the House. He has the Senate. Now he has to lead."