Only twice in the last century has a party in power improved its standing in the House of Representatives in a midterm election. This time, not only did the GOP avoid the customary double-digit losses of a Presidents party, but it also saw its House majority grow by six or seven seats.
And while growing, the House GOP caucus grew much closer to its conservative philosophical base (see box).
Campaign money was a factor. In spite of a few very large gifts from wealthy donors, Democratic committees found themselves begging for cash in the final days of the campaign. The Republican committees-all known for receiving thousands of smaller gifts from individuals-overwhelmed their respective Democratic counterparts with a total cash advantage of nearly $200 million.
There were also the three Rs: Redistricting, which favored the GOP; Rain, which hit several big cities perhaps depressing Democratic turnout; and Reed, Ralph Reed, the party chairman who masterminded a Republican near-sweep in Democratic Georgia, actually picking up two of the states Democrat-leaning House districts.
But clearly more important than the three Rs-or anything else-were the three Bs: Bush, Bush, and Bush.
When it came to money, it was the President who raised a record $140 million for the midterm election-not even counting the millions from the sale of September 11 Bush photographs that the liberal media turned into a controversy. When it comes to turnout, Bush was indirectly responsible for the massive, enthusiastic Republican vote mobilized by Reed in Georgia-and by others in Colorado, Florida, Minnesota and Missouri-because he convinced voters that in spite of dangers facing the nation, his agenda was being blocked by partisan Democrats.
Maybe Bush didnt cause the rain in Atlanta, Houston and Kansas City. But it almost seems possible after last Tuesday.
By traveling to 32 states in an energetic and unapologetic campaign to elect Republicans-a move orchestrated by White House political advisor Karl Rove-Bush took a huge risk, essentially making the election a referendum on his presidency. President Woodrow Wilson tried the same gamble by actively campaigning in the 1918 midterms and asking Americans for a larger Democratic majority in Congress to help him wage World War I. He was thoroughly repudiated and lost both houses for his party.
But this President-whom conservatives have often criticized for failing to spend his political capital on the issues-has finally cashed in, big time.
Most crucial to the Republican victory was Bushs willingness to bet on several key swing districts. In some cases, Bush made multiple appearances for candidates in very tight races, asking voters explicitly to help his agenda by electing Republicans. The result: Bushs active endorsement helped throw almost every competitive newly drawn House district in the country to the GOP. Of the 23 House candidates for whom Bush appeared, all but two-incumbents George Gekas (Pa.) and Connie Morella (Md.)-won their races.
In Indianas competitive 2nd District-most of which is currently represented by retiring Democrat Tim Roemer-Bush made two appearances to raise $650,000 and give his hearty support to Republican candidate Chris Chocola. Bush told crowds to get their friends to vote for the conservative businessman, who had nearly defeated Roemer in 2000.
Urging a vote for Chocola, Bush told the crowd at the South Bend Airport, “If it helps, tell them the President wants him standing by his side in Washington, D.C.” Chocola won by just under 9,000 votes after Bush, Vice President Cheney, Bush confidante Karen Hughes and VP aide Mary Matalin all stumped for him in urban St. Joseph County-which went to Gore by less than half a percentage point in 2000. Chocola later credited Bush for his victory.
The story was the same all over the country. In Colorados new, dead-even 7th District, former Republican state party chairman Bob Beauprez may squeak to victory by fewer than 400 votes after Bush and Cheney visited the district on his behalf. With help from Bush, Arizona conservative Rick Renzi narrowly won a new, evenly split rural district.
The same bump worked in Minnesota for John Kline, who-on his third attempt-knocked off incumbent Rep. Bill Luther (D.) by a convincing double-digit margin, in New Mexico for Steve Pearce, who handily won a tight race over a conservative Democrat, and in Alabama for Mike Rogers, who kept in the GOP column a district that was supposed to go Democratic after being redrawn by the Democratic state legislature.
An appearance by Bush also helped Reed bring about an unexpected victory by conservative Republican Phil Gingrey in Georgias 11th District-also carved out by the states Democratic legislature to be one of their own.