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Tuesday, 17 December, 2002, 10:07 GMT
Bush strengthened by 2002 poll
President George W Bush
The American people gave the president the thumbs up

The Congressional mid-term elections proved to be a considerable success for President George W Bush and, barring a foreign or domestic policy catastrophe, have set him up well for the presidential elections in 2004.

The mid-terms turned into a mini referendum on his performance despite the conventional thinking that such elections often go against the president's party and are more to do with bread-and-butter issues rather than presidential ones.

What happened on 5 November could be a prelude to long-term Republican dominance

David Broder, political writer
The Republicans won back control of the Senate and increased their majority in the House of Representatives.

The Democrats reckoned that they had been beaten badly. Even though the margin between the major parties remains quite small, perception is everything in politics.

Leadership

What most of the pundits forgot, but the American public didn't, was that as Mr Bush himself put in his State of the Union speech to Congress on 29 January: "Our nation is at war."

In time of war any country tends to rally round a leader. George W Bush has managed to show leadership since 11 September 2001 and, whether he is liked abroad or not, he is liked by many Americans.

His style, criticised by his opponents as simplistic and dangerous, is seen by his supporters as simple and effective.

Press headline 2000
The mid-terms laid to rest the 2000 election controversy
The Democrats had swung behind him on the war and failed to confront him on the economy, thereby depriving themselves of any issue on which to fight.

The elections also did something else for Mr Bush. They laid to rest any lingering doubts from the chaos of the count in 2000 that he wasn't really the president.

Professor of American Studies at de Montfort University, Phil Davies, who predicted the Republican sweep in the mid-terms, said: "Mr Bush won an election in which he didn't stand. People tend to think it gives him a mandate."

'Good ride'

And the prediction now is that the Republicans are well placed for the elections in 2004. David Broder, a long-time political writer on the Washington Post, said: "What happened on 5 November could be a prelude to long-term Republican dominance."

Al Gore
Al Gore: Ruled himself out of 2004 race
Phil Davies pointed out that changes in congressional districts mean that few seats (well below 10%) in the House of Representatives are now competitive, so that it will be even harder for the Democrats to win back the House next time.

"The Republicans are in for quite a good ride," he said. "I would think that if George Bush has a half decent rest of his presidency, he will come out swinging for the elections of 2004."

Mr Bush has already used the new double majority to get through his plan to set up a Department of Homeland Security by combining 22 existing agencies, including the Coast Guard, the Border Patrol and the Secret Service.

Other items on his agenda include consolidating tax cuts beyond the 10 years already allowed for, reforming healthcare along more competitive lines and opening up more areas for energy exploration, among them the Arctic Wildlife refuge in Alaska.

Public eye

Among the Democrats, no one figure emerged as the champion who might offer a challenge in two years' time. Yet now is the time when the challengers have to begin their preparations, especially by raising their money.

Al Gore has now ruled himself out of the 2004 race, leaving the field wide open for other challengers.

Possible or likely contenders for the nomination are:

  • Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. A former and wounded Vietnam veteran who turned against the war. He is a liberal four-term senator who might have a hard time getting support in the South. He has a rich wife in heiress Teresa Heinz.

  • Senator John Edwards of North Carolina. A former criminal lawyer who made a fortune. He has Southern appeal and good looks, and has been a favourite at Washington dinner parties. He is a bit young, though, and only a first-term senator.

  • Governor Howard Dean of Vermont. Already up-and-running in those remote states like Iowa which hold early primary votes. He is a doctor formerly in practice with his wife. He is keen on health and green issues.

  • Congressman Dick Gephardt Resigned as House Minority leader to clear the decks for a presidential run, but has lost some shine in the failure of the Democrats in mid-terms. Close to unions and very much a party man.

  • Senator Tom Daschle He is from practically deserted South Dakota so doesn't bring millions with him. He is a bit mild-mannered, though a clever Senate insider. Was Senate Majority leader so has also lost some lustre.

  • Senator Jo Lieberman. Ran with Al Gore last time and said he wouldn't run against his old boss next time, but he might be tempted now that Mr Gore has pulled out. He enjoys politics and would be the first Jewish president.

Dick Gephardt
Dick Gephardt: "Has lost some shine"
No doubt one or two other figures will emerge, perhaps vanity candidates who like the idea of being in the public eye for one glorious hour.

But it is going to be a bitter time for Democrats unless something goes badly wrong with, say, a war in Iraq, or the US economy taking a serious turn for the worse.

They can take some hope from what happened to President Bush senior. After winning the Gulf War against Saddam Hussein in 1991, he lost the presidential election to Bill Clinton in 2002 because he neglected the economy.

It is unlikely that President Bush junior will make that mistake and it may be that the Democrats will basically write 2004 off and begin to plan for a long climb back to power in the mid-terms in 2006 and the presidential race in 2008.


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06 Nov 02 | Americas
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