WASHINGTON (AP) — A triumphant phalanx of conservative
candidates paved the way as Republicans used Election Day to
strengthen their grip on Congress and vanquish one of the
Democrats’ most visible national leaders.

As undecided races in the House and Senate dwindled to a
handful, both chambers’ GOP leaders rejoiced in their added
muscle. In the next Congress, Republicans will have at least 231
seats and probably one more for what would be a three-seat pickup
in the 435-member House.

The GOP will control the new Senate 55 to 44 plus a
Democratic-leaning independent, a four-seat gain.

“Last night was a monumental victory for the United States
Senate,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist
(R-Tenn.).

Frist, who will still need to muster 60 votes to fend off
Democratic filibusters that can derail bills, spoke during a
whirlwind one-day victory lap through four of the five southern
states where Republicans grabbed seats from retiring Senate
Democrats.

The GOP’s favorite scalp was that of Senate Minority
Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the 18-year Senate veteran and
leading Democratic voice whom Republicans disparaged for
obstructing their agenda. Former Rep. John Thune (R-S.D.) made
Daschle the only Senate incumbent to lose Tuesday, ousting him by
fewer than 4,600 votes and leaving his party’s senators
without a high-profile leader. Democrats were left searching for
explanations.

“We did everything within our control to be in a position
to win,” said Sen. Jon Corzine (D-N.J.), who led his
party’s Senate campaign apparatus. “What we could not
control was a map which was tilted decidedly in our
opponent’s direction and an unexpectedly strong showing by
President Bush.”

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Daschle’s No. 2, easily won
re-election and prepared to announce his own run for the top job.
Though not viewed as telegenic or inspiring, Reid is seen by many
colleagues as a hard worker who has earned the chance. If a
challenge does come, the Democrat most often mentioned was Sen.
Christopher Dodd of Connecticut.

Congressional Republicans not only increased in number but are a
more conservative lot, chiefly by consolidating their hold on
Southern and other GOP-leaning states.

Among the newly minted GOP lawmakers with clear conservative
tastes were incoming Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Jim DeMint of
South Carolina, and Reps.-elect Ted Poe and Louis Gohmert of Texas.
Most Democratic pickups in the House and Senate came in
Democratic-leaning states and districts.

“There’s no question, the red states get redder and
the blue states get bluer,” said Stephen Moore, president of
the conservative Club for Growth.

Underscoring the conservative tide, the National Rifle
Association said 14 of the 18 Senate candidates and 241 of the 251
House candidates it endorsed had won. It circulated long lists of
incoming House and Senate freshmen it considered
“pro-gun.”

Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.), perhaps the Senate’s most
moderate Republican, told The Providence Journal that he might
switch parties if President Bush were re-elected. “I’m
not ruling it out,” he said.

Chafee spokesman Stephen Hourahan yesterday seemed to try tamp
down rumblings of a switch, saying of his boss, “He has no
intention of making an announcement of anything in the near
future.”

Moderate Republicans took note of what happened and began
staking out their territory.

The likely new chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee,
moderate Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), warned the White House against
trying to fill any upcoming Supreme Court vacancies with judges who
would oppose abortion rights or invite Democrats to block them for
being too conservative.

“I would expect the president to be mindful of the
considerations which I am mentioning,” said Specter, who was
elected Tuesday to a fifth six-year term.

The Republican Main Street Partnership, an organization of GOP
centrists, issued a statement praising Bush’s victory but
reminding colleagues that its members will continue supporting
efforts to clean the environment.

“We are proud to work with President Bush and will
continue to strive to achieve balance for the priorities of all
Americans,” the partnership said in a statement.

And moderate Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) praised Bush’s
strong leadership and said she hoped he “will reach out to
all Americans to unite our nation.”

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