Bush gets mandate for change

George Bush’s popularity helped the Republicans to an historic victory in the mid-term elections today and provided a major boost to his hopes of re-election in 2004.

George Bush’s popularity helped the Republicans to an historic victory in the mid-term elections today and provided a major boost to his hopes of re-election in 2004.

Aggressive campaigning by the President in close fought seats across the US ensured his party seized control of the Senate and increased its majority in the House of Representatives.

The sweeping gains mean he is now free to introduce key legislation on tax cuts and domestic security.

It will also enable Mr Bush to make conservative judicial appointments and give him stronger backing in the war on terror and attempts to topple Saddam Hussein.

“The president’s popularity is very high and that undoubtedly was a factor in some of these elections,” conceded Democratic House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt.

It was only the third time in a century that the president’s party improved its position in the House at midterm, and the first time for Senate gains in two decades.

“President Bush and the Republican Party tonight have made history,” said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

He suggested the victory had at last provided a mandate for Mr Bush, whose 2000 election without a majority of the popular vote was decided by the Supreme Court.

“I think it’s very fair to say that a good portion of the results ... is attributable to the president’s popularity and his hard wor on behalf of the candidates.”

Mr Bush’s approval ratings, which shot up after the September 11 terrorist attacks, have hovered in the high 60s, despite a sputtering economy, corporate accounting scandals involving some of his biggest campaign donors and public anxiety about his talk of war with Iraq.

The Democrats found some consolation in the state governor elections, where they achieved key gains in the industrial north, taking the states of Illinois, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

But the president’s younger brother Jeb easily held on to the Florida governor’s office, prevailing over the full force of a national Democratic Party that had made him its No 1 target.

Democrats hoped his defeat would avenge the 2000 presidential recount debacle in Florida, and act as a prelude to defeating his brother in 2004.

Former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, a Republican heroine for her role in the 2000 presidential recount, coasted to election for a House of Representative seat.

When the new Congress is sworn in January, it will be the first time in 50 years that Republicans take outright control of the hite House, Senate and House.

The party will hold at least 51 Senate seats, while in the House, the majority will increase by at least two votes.

The administration is expected to use the advantage to pass the Homeland Security bill, aimed at preventing terror attacks in the US.

Mr Bush had been at loggerheads with Democrat senators over many issues related to the creation of the department.

He is also expected to push through the huge backlog of judicial appointments.

The Senate has confirmed only 15 of 32 appeals court nominees submitted by Mr Bush.

Republicans took their 51st Senate seat with a narrow win for Norm Coleman in Minnesota over former vice president Walter Mondale.

Mr Mondale had taken over the seat previously held by Senator Paul Wellstone, who died in a plane crash two weeks’ ago.

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott said: “We had the issues with us. The war against terrorism, security at home, strong national defence and dealing honestly with the economy.”

A little more than a third of eligible Americans voted in the elections.

Widely anticipated technical problems with new electronic equipment amounted to little more than a few hiccups.

Only the Alabama governor’s race lingered in dispute because of a disagreement over the vote count.

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