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Thursday, 7 November, 2002, 19:16 GMT
Top Democrat leader resigns
House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt
Mr Gephardt may be a contender for the presidency
The Democrat's leader in the House of Representatives, Richard Gephardt, has announced he will leave his post after the party's heavy losses in Tuesday's mid-term elections.


It's time for me personally to take a different direction... and take on this president and Republican Party from a different vantage point

Richard Gephardt
Mr Gephardt said he would step down when his term expires at the end of the year, and the race to replace him is already reported to have begun.

The Republicans now have control of the White House, the Senate - where they increased their share by two seats to 51 out of 100 with one race outstanding - and the House, where they won at least 227 out of the full 435 places up for election.

Frustrated Democrats lashed out at their political leadership for their failures to retain control of the Senate or make gains in the House, as well as losing in some races they had been expected to win.

Bush crucial

They acknowledged the contribution to the Republican campaign of President George W Bush who made repeated visits to key constituencies, raised millions of dollars for candidates and put his own prestige on the line to rally support.

Mr Bush was credited with generating a tide of support in areas such as Georgia, where an unfancied Republican unseated a Democrat senator partly by questioning his commitment to national security.

President George W Bush on the phone
Democrats said they could not compete with the power of the president

Democrats said the Republicans capitalised on the patriotism and support for Mr Bush unleashed by last year's 11 September attacks on New York and Washington.

Mr Gephardt told Fox News: "This is a unique election in the annals of our political history.

"I think it is a very rare occasion when you have an attack like 9/11. It left people in the mood of wanting to support the president."

Senator Patty Murray, chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, agreed.

"Ultimately, we could not compete with the power of the bully pulpit of a wartime president," she said.

But several House Democrats said it was time for a new leader to replace Mr Gephardt, who had been trying to return to Speaker's chair since Republican Newt Gingrich took it from him after the 1994 mid-term election.

Representative Peter Deutsch of Florida said: "It is now clearly time for him to step down."

Open in new window : In pictures
Click here to see what voters are saying

Announcing his resignation, Mr Gephardt said it was time for him to take a different direction and "take on the president and Republican Party from a different vantage point".

Mr Gephardt - who said he would maintain his congressional seat - is expected to announce soon whether he will be a contender for the presidency in 2004.

The contest to succeed him could lead to infighting and put the liberal wing of the Democrats up against its centre if, as expected, the conservative Martin Frost stands against the more left-wing Nancy Pelosi.

Republican Senate leader Trent Lott
Tax cuts may be on the agenda for Trent Lott, who becomes Senate Majority Leader
In the Senate, Tom Daschle is expected to stay as leader of the Democrats.

He moved quickly to acknowledge that he and other Democratic leaders shared the blame.

"I can't shrug it," he said. "I can't shirk it."

Al Gore, the former vice-president and presidential candidate, urged his party to reform.

Mr Gore, who is expected to stand for the White House again in 2004, told the ABC network: "Democrats should not mistake the magnitude of this loss, there has to be a major regrouping."

Republicans, meanwhile, were planning their take-over of the Senate, which will happen in January when new members are sworn in.

There will be new chairmen for the committees and it is expected that the Republican majority will aim to rein in spending, make permanent Mr Bush's 10-year $1.35 trillion tax cut and push through judicial appointments nominated by the White House.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Nick Bryant
"The announcement comes as no surprise"

Key races

Analysis

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Results Latest: 13:58 GMT
House:
206 seats 227 seats 2 seats
Senate:
49 seats 51 seats 1 seats
Seats: House/Senate
Democrats: 206 / 49
Republicans: 227 / 51
Independents: 2 / 1
See also:

07 Nov 02 | Americas
07 Nov 02 | Americas
07 Nov 02 | Americas
06 Nov 02 | Americas
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