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White House optimistic about Congress

Fleischer predicts GOP won't lose seats

From Kelly Wallace
CNN Washington Bureau

First lady Laura Bush gets a kiss from the president during a campaign stop Monday in Iowa.
First lady Laura Bush gets a kiss from the president during a campaign stop Monday in Iowa.

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DALLAS, Texas (CNN) -- President Bush's spokesman signaled some optimism Monday, boldly predicting Republicans will not lose seats in Congress on Election Day, a departure from what traditionally happens to the president's party in the off-year elections.

"I think the president is heartened by the fact that he appears likely to have broken the historical trend against incumbents in their first terms," Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary, told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Missouri, the president's second stop in his final daylong campaign effort.

"This is a very serious, significant development," Fleischer said. "All signs give a lot of reason to be optimistic that the trend can be broken."

Mary Matalin, White House adviser, noted Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" that "the average House loss in the midterm for the president's party is 30 seats and the president's party on average has lost Senate seats in the last two-thirds of 22 elections."

Fleischer's comments signal the White House believes Republicans will maintain control of the House of Representatives and won't lose ground in the U.S. Senate. The Bush spokesman was cautious, however, on the outlook for winning additional seats to bolster the GOP majority in the House and to wrestle control of the Senate from the Democrats.

"I think it remains an open question whether or not Republicans pick up seats," Fleischer said. "There are just an awful lot of close races across the country right now, and there's no telling how they're going to break, particularly in the Senate."

If Republicans win back control of the Senate, it would be the first time that happened during a president's first off-year election, a senior administration official said Sunday,.

The Bush spokesman said the president is watching the races "closely," getting daily updates from his top political adviser, Karl Rove.

"A 50-50 Congress which becomes a 51-49 Congress means there's a significantly greater chance for the president's agenda to be enacted into law, so the president is watching it very closely," Fleischer said.

The Bush spokesman also seemed to be laying the groundwork to protect the president if Republicans don't fare well at the polls and to prop up the president if they do.

Fleischer said a variety of factors will decide the contests, including local issues, but also suggested the president will have played a major role in getting people to the polls.

"It's a real combination of a popular president who is working very hard on behalf of the Republicans in these states, in a year in which there is no overwhelming powerful domestic or international issue that's single most in any race," Fleischer said. "And there are a lot of local factors."

"People will study the exit polls and ... determine what drove voter behavior," he added.

After visiting Iowa and Missouri Monday, Bush planned to stump in Bentonville, Arkansas and Dallas to give a boost to Republican candidates in hotly contested Senate races before retiring to his 1,600-acre ranch in dusty Crawford, Texas.

By the time the campaign comes to an end, Bush will have traveled to 40 states on behalf of GOP candidates, raising more than $140 million dollars for Republicans.

On Election Day, the president will cast his votes at the Crawford Fire Department before returning to the White House to watch the election returns. Some members of Congress may join Bush to watch the results, Fleischer added.

This all means the first couple, whose 25th wedding anniversary is Tuesday, may have to put off any celebration of that event until after Election Day.

A birthday celebration that might have to be put on hold as well. The first lady, who is traveling with the president, turned 56 Monday. At each campaign stop, the GOP supporters paid tribute, singing "Happy Birthday" to her.

The president has purchased a gift but Fleischer called that matter "super-duper top-secret information." He said the first couple planned to celebrate "quietly and privately."

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