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A Look at the US Political Scene in the Aftermath of Midterm Elections - 2002-11-09

In the wake of Republican gains in this week's U.S. midterm elections, President Bush is urging Congress to act on his legislative agenda. Opposition Democrats, on the other hand, are still reeling from losing control of the Senate, and an internal struggle has begun to determine where the party goes from here.

By winning control of the Senate and expanding their majority in the House of Representatives, there is little doubt that Republicans now have the political momentum.

President Bush and his victorious Republicans have tried not to gloat about their success. But the president has made it clear that he views the election results as a call to Congress to act on his legislative agenda.

"If there is a mandate in any election, at least in this one, it is that the people want something to get done," he said. "They want people to work together in Washington, D.C., to pass meaningful legislation, which will improve their lives."

Political analysts agree that Mr. Bush was a big winner in the mid-term elections, and that he has strengthened his own re-election prospects two years from now. That might make some Democrats who are considering a run for the White House in 2004 reluctant to challenge a popular president.

Mr. Bush put his high public approval ratings on the line by campaigning around the country for Republican candidates, and that may have been the difference in winning enough close races to shift control of the Senate back to the Republicans.

Opposition Democrats are now trying to regroup in the wake of the Republican gains, searching for leaders and a message to counter the president's improved political standing.

Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle is promising a mix of cooperation and confrontation. "We intend to work closely with the president when we think he is right. But, I must say, we will stand up and fight for our principles when we think he is wrong," explained Mr. Daschle."

But it is that question of when to oppose the president that may bedevil the Democrats for some time to come. Liberals argue that Democrats did not differentiate themselves enough from the president during the election campaign, and paid a price for it. Democratic moderates counter that a return to liberal themes could doom the party to minority status.

In the short term, the president and his Republican allies will have the advantage when the new Congress convenes in January, by being able to control the legislative agenda in both the House and Senate.

"The ability to control the agenda in the Senate is monumental," explained Tom DeFrank, Washington bureau chief for the New York Daily News and a guest on this week's Issues in the News program on VOA. "For the last 18 months, Democrats have controlled the Senate, and they have been able to thwart a lot of what President Bush wanted to do, simply by controlling the calendar. What it really does is, it allows the president to be on offense for the next two years, not defense, and the difference is night and day,"

But with greater responsibility come greater risks. With Republicans firmly in control of all the levers of power in Washington, voters will know whom to blame if things go wrong.

"The bad news is, it is now the Republicans in control," said David Lightman, who analyzes politics for the newspaper, and is also a guest on Issues in the News."Whatever happens on the economy, the war on terrorism, the stock market, it is all on the Republicans' watch, and, frankly, that could make it easier for Democrats to run in 2004," Mr. Lightman went on to say.

By the end of this year, several prominent Democrats are expected to decide whether to make a run for president in 2004. The race for the party's presidential nomination now shapes up as a battle between liberals and moderates for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party.