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US Midterm Elections - 2002-10-30


Millions of Americans head to the polls November 5th for congressional elections that could tip the balance of power in Washington. The party that holds the White House historically loses congressional seats in so-called midterm elections, congressional elections held in non-presidential election years. But, as VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports, this year’s battle for control of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives is rated as a toss-up.

All 435 House seats, 34 of the 100 Senate seats and 36 state governors will be decided this year. Republicans currently have a six-seat margin in the House while Democrats are fighting to retain their single seat advantage in the Senate.

Analyst Charles Cook says the political stakes in this year’s election are so high because the margins of control in each chamber are so narrow.

CHARLES COOK, ANALYST
“Who has a majority? Who has got the committee chairmanships? And the majority party in the Senate and the House, they get to help set the national agenda, whether they have the votes to kind of muscle something through Congress or not. So, I don’t think we are going to see a decisive outcome in this election. But having said that, what happens still is very, very important.”

President Bush stands to benefit in his re-election race two years from now if Republicans retain control of the House and win back the Senate. As he campaigns for Republican candidates around the country, the president focuses on the war on terrorism and the threat posed by Iraq.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH
“Either the Iraqi regime will give up its weapons of mass destruction, or -- for the sake of peace -- the United States will lead a global coalition to disarm that regime."

Political expert Stuart Rothenberg says the Republican focus on Iraq is preventing the Democrats from emphasizing domestic concerns like the weakened U.S. economy.

STUART ROTHENBERG, POLITICAL EXPERT
“And as long as you have Iraq out there, it not only distracts the American public, it provides another subject to talk about. But it just cuts down the amount of time that the media can spend on the economy. So it dilutes a potential Democratic message about the economy.”

Democrats, like Congressman Dennis Kucinich, insist voters are just as concerned about economic security as they are about homeland security.

CONGRESSMAN DENNIS KUCINICH
"People have lost their homes, they've lost their jobs, they've lost their chances for a good education for their children. The American dream is slipping away and all the people hear from Washington is war talk."

Analyst Charles Cook says voters are being pulled in two different directions.

CHARLES COOK, ANALYST
“You’ve got the economy and concerns about the economy and domestic problems pulling the election towards Democrats. But then you have the concern about foreign policy and terrorism and a potential war with Iraq pulling it the opposite direction. And so you have two strong, very powerful forces and right now they are evenly balanced. But each one is potentially strong enough to kind of pull the election one way or the other.”

The party controlling the White House historically loses congressional seats in midterm elections. But Stuart Rothenberg says the Republicans may be in a position to reverse that trend.

STUART ROTHENBERG, POLITICAL EXPERT
“The president, in a normal midterm election with a weak economy, the president’s party would suffer damage, probably some significant damage. We don’t see that now and the only explanation is that there are other events out there that are propping the president up, his job approval is pretty good, Republicans have rallied around him because, I think, of foreign policy. All of this is certainly helping the president in an environment that otherwise, without Iraq out there, I think the Republicans would probably lose the House of Representatives and would lose some Senate seats.”

The good news for Democrats may come in the races for state governor. Republicans control most of the 36 seats being contested this year, and the slumping economy has left many incumbents vulnerable.

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