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Democrats, Republicans Eye Potential Gains in Tuesday's Elections - 2002-11-03

Political observers are wondering how much voters will consider the health of the domestic economy when Americans go to the polls Tuesday.

The U.S. economy began slowing before George W. Bush came to office 22 months ago, but signs of recovery are few. There has been an expected, downward correction on Wall Street, after the bullish 1990s, domestic unemployment is up, and the U.S. war against terrorism is costing money that budget planners had not counted on.

Are Mr. Bush and his Republican Party responsible? Democrats think so.

"This president has been in office for two years," said Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee. "Our economy is in horrible shape today. And for the first time in 50 years, 50 percent of Americans today go to bed worried they will not have a job."

Mr. McAuliffe, speaking on the NBC television program Meet the Press, believes voters will turn against Republican candidates running in both houses of Congress.

In the U.S. Senate, where one-third of the seats are being contested, Mr. McAuliffe predicts Democrats will win tight races.

All 435 seats in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives are up for grabs. Mr. McAuliffe thinks Democrats will make some gains, even though it is expected Republicans will maintain control.

But Republican Party Chairman Marc Racicot, also appearing on Meet the Press, said there is only so much President Bush can do to right the economy. "And I think people of this nation understand the context. We are talking about international circumstances and homeland security issues that are unprecedented. And this recession, they know began before he took office. So, you place all those things in their proper context, and the American people, as a matter of intuition and their own good sense, know precisely what is going on," he said.

He believes voters will choose his party's candidates to give the Republicans control of the Senate, which they lost nearly two years ago.

The party leaders say the economy will also be a major issue in the 36 state governors races across the country.