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Volume 68, Issue 53, Thursday, November 7, 2002

News Analysis

Republicans rule the roost in nation, state offices

By Ray Hafner
Senior Staff Writer

After a historic Republican pick-up across the country during the midterm elections Tuesday, the near future of the country may be on a decidedly conservative bent.

The Republican triumvirate of White House, Senate and House returns the country to where it was 17 months ago when President Bush was fresh in his new office.

While Bush is no doubt slapping his top political strategist, election guru Karl Rove, on the back over the new majority in the Senate and the increased lead in the House, dangers lurk. 

Bush now has no excuse for not turning around the still-sagging economy, and if the economic recovery packages he plans to push next year fail to take hold, voters could recoil against the GOP in the 2004 election.

The new numbers in the Senate, 51 Republican to 47 Democratic with one independent and one undecided, don't guarantee any of Bush's agenda to pass, but will make getting his legislation on the floor much easier.

That agenda is likely to include conservative judge appointments, Alaska Wildlife Refuge drilling and Bush's ideas for prescription drug plans and Social Security. Bush will also seek to make his tax cuts permanent.

Last-minute stumping from Bush paid off, with the GOP winning contentious Senate seats in Missouri, Minnesota and North Carolina. The only state where the party failed in was Arkansas, as Mark Pryor (D) unseated embattled Sen. Tim Hutchison (R).

Bush also campaigned for Republican House candidates, unheard of for a president. His unusual tactics paid off there as well, however, making this election the first time since Franklin D. Roosevelt that a first-term president's party managed to gain seats in the House.

Democrats around the country failed to galvanize voters against the GOP. More than a dozen Democratic Senate candidates used some sort of Bush endorsement in their campaigns.

Here in Texas, former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk was one of those Senate hopefuls using Bush. But voters still left him in Dallas with only 43 percent of the vote, opting instead for an actual Republican, John Cornyn, who had heavy support from the president.

In Texas, where the voter turnout of about 35 percent was higher than most midterm elections but still lower than years when a president is elected, the state faces a similar shift in legislative power.

Governor Rick Perry successfully defended his post and secured an already Republican-led State Senate. The big news here is that the once-Democratic State House switched sides, with 83 seats secured by Republicans.

This is the first time since Reconstruction after the Civil War that Republicans have controlled the House in Texas.

The big issue facing the new Texas Legislature when it convenes in January is a budget deficit, which could reach up to $12 billion. 

With the GOP in control across the board, this should mean a fiscally conservative approach to resolving the issue.

Public schools will probably be safe from getting their budgets cut, because Perry made education a top priority during his campaign, but cuts to social programs may start showing up.

Both Texas and the nation are now in Republican hands. Americans are notoriously fickle, though, and usually prefer divided government that leaves no party in complete control.

If Republicans fail to move the country forward by the time the next election season rolls around, voters may be more willing to listen to Democrats crusading on the promise of change.

Surely, Bush and Rove are paying attention. Bush is up for reelection in 2004.

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