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President watches election returns

Bush was upbeat as he returned to the White House Tuesday.
Bush was upbeat as he returned to the White House Tuesday.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush offered a thumbs-up but no predictions Tuesday as he and Mrs. Bush voted in Crawford, Texas, and returned to the White House to await the midterm elections results and mark their 25th wedding anniversary.

Bush has campaigned across the nation during the past two weeks with the knowledge that Tuesday's voting will significantly affect his ability to govern for the next two years and seek re-election in 2004. He visited three states Monday alone.

The outcome in the Senate will largely decide whether Bush can push through judiciary nominations, including for the Supreme Court, and pursue his tax-cut plan while leading wars on terrorism and, possibly, against Iraq.

And if Democrats hold the Senate, Bush would need to rely on a GOP-controlled House to advocate the administration's agenda on Capitol Hill.

If Democrats do not pick up additional seats in the Senate or win the House, it will be seen as a win for Bush. Historically, the party holding the White House usually loses seats in midterm elections.

Meanwhile, the White House monitored gubernatorial races to determine what sort of battleground Bush will face in 2004 and whether he can rely on powerful friends in key states.

Bush called one of his closest political allies, his younger brother Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, fairly early in the long election night to congratulate him on his projected re-election.

The president characterized it as a "big victory" and said "said he was proud of his brother and of the campaign he ran," according to a White House official familiar with the conversation.

Bush made the call from the White House residence after having dinner with House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott, and the two chairmen of the GOP congressional campaign committees, Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee and Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia.

Bush has spent much of the past two years raising millions of dollars for GOP candidates. The White House put forth an unprecedented effort for a midterm campaign:

•Bush raised more than $200 million for the cycle, including more than $140 million this year.

• The president visited 40 states in all, 30 of them at least twice.

•Vice President Dick Cheney raised more than $40 million and traveled nearly constantly in the final months of the campaign, making roughly 30 trips since August.

•In the final month alone, 12 of the 14 members of the Bush Cabinet made stops in a combined 33 states.

"I think he's done something that I think President Clinton did not do in midterm races or even in his own re-election," said former Clinton White House Chief Of Staff John Podesta, "which is to use all of the authority of the White House to try to get some kind of electoral advantage.

"That's something that I think is within the bounds of the laws and regulations there are, but still I think it really is a first in American politics."

The political travel was coordinated by the White House office of political affairs, which several officials said kept a detailed list of activity by Bush team members, accounting for campaign stops and fund raising.

Officials refused to release the list, a reflection of White House sensitivity to Democratic criticism of the administration's level of political activity.



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