Republican control of the US Congress was on the line yesterday in an election colored by voters' dismay over the Iraq war and misbehavior in Washington.
At stake in the midterm election were all 435 House of Representatives seats, 33 in the Senate, 36 races for governor, ballot measures on gay marriage, embryonic stem cell research, the minimum wage and more -- plus the overarching fate of President George W. Bush's agenda in the last two years of his presidency.
In a climate inhospitable if not toxic for incumbents, Democrats hoped finally to answer the rout that drove them from legislative power in 1994. Even their opponents conceded Democrats were certain to make gains and, despite brave words, Republicans worried that control of the House would slip from their hands. Even Senate control was up in the air, but a tougher climb for Democrats.
Bush flew home to Texas to vote yesterday, finishing a restrained five-day round of campaigning mostly in Republican strongholds. His presence was a mixed blessing for candidates attracted to the attention and fundraising prowess generated by a president but nervous about being associated too closely -- or even seen with -- an unpopular leader.
Charlie Crist, a Republican running to succeed Bush's brother Jeb as Florida governor, did not show up for a planned appearance with Bush in a safely Republican section of the Panhandle, an embarrassing snub on the eve of voting.
But Bush gamely pressed on with lacerating attacks on Democrats at that Pensacola rally of 7,000 loud supporters.
"The Democrat philosophy is this: If it breathes, tax it, and if it stops breathing, find its children and tax them," Bush shouted.
Former president Bill Clinton responded sharply in kind: "They can't run anything right," he said, taunting Republicans about Iraq, Hurricane Katrina recovery and scandal in Washington.
Democrat Jim Webb, a former Navy secretary, author and less than smooth campaigner, invited Clinton to his side to close out a Virginia Senate campaign he was given little chance of winning at the outset. His tight race with Senator George Allen became emblematic of unexpected Democratic opportunities in state after state.
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