WASHINGTON – The White House on Wednesday relished history-defying elections that saw Republicans recapture the Senate — a shift that will help break a logjam over President Bush's agenda and affect his bid for a second term.
The administration took credit for Republican gains, saying it was the result of Bush's tireless campaigning for candidates who benefited from his record-breaking fund-raising drive this year.
"The president worked very hard in this election and he traveled quite a bit on behalf of the agenda and candidates in whom he believes," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
Though Tuesday's elections were bitterly fought, often marked by charges of mudslinging, Bush told his senior staff Wednesday morning: "The credit goes to the candidates and those who focused on changing the tone, people who want to work together to get things done."
"You want to succeed in American politics, change the tone," Bush told aides, according to Fleischer. "He thinks that's the lesson of last night's election."
The White House shelved plans for Bush to comment personally on the elections, saying he wanted to be "gracious" in his party's victory. The administration sought to seize on the victory to advance long-frustrated policy goals, without appearing to gloat. Bush was calling lawmakers of both parties Wednesday.
"There's a lot more to do and the president looks forward to working with Democrats and Republicans to do it," Fleischer said.
Control of both houses of Congress will breathe new life into Bush's legislative agenda. Top items blocked in the Democratic-controlled Senate include filling federal judgeship vacancies with Bush judicial nominees, new tax cuts, a homeland security department, a wide-ranging energy plan, tort reform in medical malpractice lawsuits, a patients' bill of rights and a Medicare overhaul.
The early to-bed president was up past midnight, making dozens of congratulatory calls as he savored his success in leading Republicans to victory. He resumed the calls later Wednesday.
Fueled by an unprecedented White House fund-raising campaign that channeled more than $180 million to GOP candidates, Republicans won race after race where Bush had campaigned — wresting control of the Senate back from Democrats and increasing their majority in the House.
But the single sweetest victory for the president was his brother Jeb's successful re-election bid for governor of Florida.
The president raised $8 million for his brother and for the Florida GOP, help that Jeb Bush readily acknowledged helped push him past Democrat Bill McBride, who got help from former President Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore.
"They raised a lot of money at the end," Jeb Bush said of Democrats. "But the good news is we also had a lot of support here, and the president of the United States, George W. Bush, came down and campaigned, and I think that made a big difference."
A cold, soaking rain outside the White House could not dampen spirits inside where Bush, Republican friends and top administration aides immersed themselves in the returns. Bush watched results on TV as the advisers gave him independent data and analysis. It was his 25th wedding anniversary, and he stayed up into the wee hours watching the results.
Elated aides let reporters hang around the White House hours after the West Wing normally closed, eager to bring reports of Bush's congratulatory calls to more than two dozen candidates.
Bush's fund-raising odyssey this year — 67 events in all corners of the country — provided a score card on how he was faring.
An elite group of Senate candidates got two fund-raising visits this year from Bush, and they won: Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina, Jim Talent in Missouri, Norm Coleman, Rep. John Thune in South Dakota.
Other winning beneficiaries of Bush's fund-raising machine and personal popularity included Gov. George Pataki in New York, Gov. Bob Taft in Ohio and Senate candidates Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, John Sununu of New Hampshire and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia.
But there were losses, too, some of them in states that will be critical in the 2004 presidential campaign.
Republicans lost gubernatorial races in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Tennessee, Iowa and New Mexico, all states Bush has been courting with an eye to his own re-election.