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Wednesday, 6 November, 2002, 12:37 GMT
Q&A: Republican triumph
George W Bush and his Republican party have scored a remarkable victory in the US mid-term elections. BBC News Online looks at the main issues surrounding their triumph.

Why has this been called a historic victory?

This is only the third time in a century that the party of an incumbent president has improved its position in the House of Representatives at mid-term elections.

It is the first time the party of the incumbent has made Senate gains in two decades.

Traditionally, the president and his party do badly in mid-terms. This appears to have been reversed by the feverish campaigning of a very popular leader.

What is this triumph being attributed to?

The mid-term result is above all a huge personal triumph for Mr Bush.

The president's popularity and his appearances at rallies alongside Republican candidates all over the country seem to have made a huge difference.

Mid-terms usually hinge on domestic issues. But with the US engaged in a "war on terror" and the prospect of a war with Iraq, Americans appear to have ignored all domestic issues and backed their president.

By campaigning so vigorously, Mr Bush made the mid-terms a referendum on his presidency - a risk that has paid off handsomely.

His narrow and controversial presidential victory in November 2000 is now well and truly buried.

Election spending also played in favour of the Republicans, with record amounts of campaign funds spent. Republicans raised and spent $150m while the Democrats spent $80m.

What happened to the Democrats?

There is no doubt that the Democrats were in a terrible mess.

They had no clear unified position on a number of key issues, or a national issue to campaign on. The Democrats also had no single charismatic figure to lead them.

On the war on Iraq, some Democrat candidates backed the president, some opposed him. Either way, no alternative to Mr Bush's approach was articulated.

Democrats dramatically failed to draw voters' attention to the ailing economy and failed to make an issue of what could have been characterised as a "Republican tax cut for the rich". Some Democrats backed the tax cut.

What does this result mean for Americans?

Mr Bush is much strengthened by this result. He should now be able to pursue a conservative "reform" agenda entrenching tax cuts, and cutting back social welfare programmes.

The president will almost certainly pursue oil and mineral exploration of the Arctic nature reserve.

There are also likely to be a number of conservatives appointed to the senior judicial positions - this is a legacy Mr Bush is keen to establish.

In Congress, the Democrats will not be totally powerless. If they build up a political head of steam they can delay and dilute some of Mr Bush's legislative ambitions.

However, the president and his party now have a moral momentum and mandate that eluded them in 2000.

What might it mean for the rest of the world?

Internationally, Mr Bush's agenda on the "war on terror", Iraq and trade is likely to be unchallenged. The president traditionally has a fairly free hand in international matters as it is.

The administration's unilateralist approach to trade, the environment and arms control issues that has so offended European governments is likely to continue and grow.

Mr Bush is likely to feel less constrained in sidelining the United Nations should it refuse to provide the kind of tough resolution on Iraq he is seeking.

Does this result offer any pointers for the 2004 presidential race?

Obviously, Mr Bush has come out of this poll with his reputation and personal popularity greatly enhanced. He is clearly a formidable campaigner and raiser of party funds.

In theory, he can now pursue his political and economic agenda unhindered.

As incumbent in 2004, Mr Bush has a lot in his favour.

There is a risk though. Now that he and his party control the White House and Congress, there are no excuses.

If the "war on terror" and the campaign against Iraq go badly, if the economy declines, if Mr Bush fails to push through his domestic reform agenda, only the Republicans and the president will be to blame.

We may well see Mr Bush paying more and more attention to the domestic agenda ahead of 2004. He will not want to repeat what was seen as his father's mistake.

After winning the Gulf War in 1991, George Bush senior did not win a second term at least partly because he was perceived by voters to have neglected the domestic concerns of ordinary Americans.


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