WASHINGTON -- When President Bush won the White House he was a Republican without coattails, but he can claim them now after historic GOP gains in his first midterm elections.
Defying offyear history, Republicans gained full control of Congress, taking over command in the Senate and strengthening their majority in the House. That drew resentful Democratic concessions that the president's popularity in a time of international and terrorist stress, his fund-raising and his aggressive campaign were keys to the outcome of Tuesday's voting.
Republicans will have at least 50 seats in the new Senate, a majority since Vice President Dick Cheney will be able to break any tie votes. In the House, Republicans gained at least three seats.
Come Jan. 7, when the new Congress convenes, the Republicans will regain the majority they lost when former Republican Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont declared himself an independent in 2001 and switched to the Democratic side.
In the pattern of politics, when presidents win election they pull congressional candidates of their party to victory on their tickets, although that hasn't done the White House party much good since Ronald Reagan's time. The coattail effect wasn't there for Bush in 2000. Instead, the Democrats gained two seats in the House and four in the Senate as Bush won by a single electoral vote.
Historically, the party of the president loses congressional seats at midterm. The White House party has gained House seats only three times in midterm elections in the past century. Since Reagan, the presidential party has lost an average of 18 seats in the House and four in the Senate in off years.
With Bush as their campaigner in chief, the Republicans reversed those patterns. The White House party had never before taken over the Senate in a president's first midterm elections.
For Bush, the Republican victories were a big payout on a political gamble. He had staked his prestige on an almost full-time campaign for GOP candidates in the weeks before the voting. He campaigned in 23 states, six of them twice. He took the stage for 24 Republican candidates in closely contested congressional and state races, and at least 19 of them won on Tuesday.
Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic Party chairman, said Bush's campaign for Republicans was a telling one. He said the Sept. 11 attacks, the war on terror, the threat of war in Iraq, "You put all that together with the president out there actively campaigning" and it added up to defeats for his Democrats.
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