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Tuesday's Elections Could Alter Balance of Power in Congress - 2002-11-01

Tuesday's elections in the United States could alter the balance of power in Congress. All 435 seats in the House of Representatives, along with 34 of the 100 Senate seats, are up for grabs.

Republicans currently hold a six-seat majority in the House. Democrats had a one-seat majority in the Senate, prior to the death of Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota in a plane crash last month. Political observers expect a tight race for control of Congress. They say the United States appears to be as politically divided as it was during the contested 2000 presidential race.

Political analyst Charles Cook. "You would have a very, very hard time splitting this country down the middle any more evenly than it is right now," said Charles Cook. "It really is an amazing time to have a mid-term election."

Most of the attention is focused on the battle for Senate seats. Minnesota, where former Vice-President Walter Mondale stepped in to replace Paul Wellstone as the Democratic candidate, is among the closest races. The others include Arkansas, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Texas, Colorado, and South Dakota.

Historically, mid-term elections, so called because they fall mid-way through the president's four-year term, do not tend to favor the party controlling the White House. But this year could prove an exception.

Political analyst Charles Cook offers his prediction. "The bottom line is, we think the House will stay Republican, but that it will be 51-52 percent Republican, when this is all over with," he said. "The Senate is way too close to call, with either party capable of coming out with 51, 52, 53 seats."

Democrats hope to benefit in the final days of the campaign from what they see as increasing voter frustration over the U.S. economy and growing concern about the possibility of war against Iraq.

Political analyst Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution says that is possible. "Economic anxiety is increasing," said Thomas Mann. "This is a nation ambivalent about military action in Iraq, and, therefore, it seems the possibility exists for a late-minute breeze, not a tide, that could have a tipping effect [in favor of the Democrats]."

The stakes are high for both parties. If Democrats gain control of one or both chambers of Congress, it would be easier for them to block the president's agenda, and force compromises on such issues as appointing federal judges. Thomas Mann of Brookings says "It would alter the way in which President Bush pursues his domestic policy agenda," he said. "It would have a bearing on his appointments to the federal bench, on his efforts to make permanent tax cuts, on his interest in personal accounts associated with social security and efforts to reform the health system, to regulate the business sector."

On the other hand, if Republicans control both chambers, it would be easier for President Bush to implement his agenda as he looks forward to his own re-election bid in 2004.

Other posts up for grabs in Tuesday's balloting include 36 of the nation's 50 governors.