WASHINGTON -- For all their disappointment now, Democrats on Capitol Hill say the bitter presidential race could sow the seeds for a takeover of Congress from the Republicans in the 2002 midterm elections.
"Many people on the Democratic side feel that Vice President Gore actually won the election, and that feeling will carry over into 2002," said Rep. Martin Frost of Texas, the third-ranking House Democrat. "I don't think it's a question of bitterness. It's a question of wanting to work harder."
Al Gore's narrow loss to Republican George W. Bush, coupled with dozens of close congressional races that kept the GOP in slim control, will spur Democratic activists and politicians to register more voters, step up candidate recruitment efforts and do a better job of getting out the vote two years from now, Democrats say.
"Our people believe we were robbed," said Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Md. "I think our people are going to be highly motivated."
Congressional elections in the middle of a president's term usually translate into losses for the party running the White House. Since World War II, the party controlling the presidency has picked up congressional seats only three times, each time just a few.
"When a president assumes office, that president loses in the off years," said Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla. "I certainly believe that the tone has been set by this election to almost ensure that Democrats are going to gain seats."
When the 107th Congress convenes in January, the Senate will be evenly split 50-50, with incoming Vice President Dick Cheney breaking ties for the Republicans. The GOP lost two seats to Democrats in the House, retaining a 221-211 edge, with two independents and one vacancy.
In 2002, all 435 House seats will be up for re-election along with 33 Senate seats, 20 of them being defended by Republicans.
"We will be in a better position, if we harness our energies the right way," said Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark.
The trick for Democrats will be to appear willing to work with Republicans and Bush, yet still highlight partisan differences and slow GOP accomplishments, said Steven S. Smith, congressional analyst at the University of Minnesota.
"That will put some pressure on the president to get what he can out of this Congress," Smith said. "The conservatives will say, 'The 2002 elections can't be promising for us, so we need to get what we can now."'
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