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Political Analysts Credit Bush for Republican Election Win - 2002-11-09

Political analysts in the United States are crediting President Bush with the Republican Party's victories in this year's midterm elections. Riding on Mr. Bush's popularity, the Republicans gained control of the U.S. Senate and added to their majority in the House of Representatives.

President Bush's relentless campaigning during the final days of the midterm elections appears to have been a calculated gamble that paid off with Republican victories analysts say were remarkable in U.S. political history.

No other American president since Franklin Roosevelt in 1934 has seen his political party gain seats in both houses of the Congress two years into his first term in office.

Political commentator and television analyst William Schneider says the president's performance gained him a national mandate from voters after his razor thin victory for the nation's top job two years ago.

"President Bush, bottom line, took a calculated risk. He made himself important, the central issue in the campaign. It could have ended badly for the Republicans. That was a calculated risk, limited of course by the fact that if you have a 66 percent job rating the calculation is pretty much in your favor," Mr. Schneider said. "But still it could have gone badly. You can not underestimate the risk the president took by doing this. If it had gone badly it would have seriously damaged his political standing. He put his clout on the line and he saw it immensely enhanced by these results. So the bottom line for me is very simple. President Bush finally won his mandate, the mandate he did not win in 2000."

President Bush launched a closing campaign blitz that covered 10,000 miles, 17 cities and 15 states in five days, helping Republican candidates win close races throughout the country.

Analysts say the president's successes underscore a leadership vacuum within the opposition Democratic Party.

Norman Ornstein writes about American politics and is an election analyst for U.S. television. He says Democrats are now without a main message or messenger and are finding it difficult to criticize President Bush as long as he remains popular in the polls.

"Can Democrats find a spokesman who can excite the base and move to the middle? It is hard when you are not in the White House. Will George Bush continue to be able to keep his base satisfied when now their expectations are going to be a little bit higher, while staying to the middle? I'm not sure about that," Mr. Ornstein said. "If his approval comes down to the mid 50s then you will see Democratic leaders joining this chorus to move much more to challenge him and to attack him. If his approval rating stays up in the 60s or 70s then you won't."

Political observers say President Bush was able to turn the election into a referendum on national security and foreign policy, a message that swamped the Democrats' domestic agenda.

Still, analysts say Mr. Bush's victory, which won the Republicans narrow control of the Congress, was not so sweeping that his re-election in 2004 can be taken for granted.

Political analyst and author Ben Wattenberg says there are too many uncertainties to accurately predict what will happen in the 24 months leading up to Mr. Bush's anticipated re-election bid.

"You just don't know. Right now you could draw a pretty good case for an emerging Republican majority and it would all add up but you don't know. You don't know where the economy is going," he said. "You don't know what is going to happen in a war. You don't know anything. I mean it is the future."

Mr. Bush's top priority on Capitol Hill is the creation of a new Department of Homeland Security, while his foreign policy will be focused on Iraq.

Whatever happens at home or overseas, Mr. Bush has created goodwill among Republicans across the nation and has strengthened allies and networks that will be critical to his re-election campaign.