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White House Cautious on Blair Victory

President Bush nicknamed British Prime Minister Tony Blair (search) "landslide" when he was re-elected to a second term.

It's a moniker Bush can't use this time, given Blair's Labour Party's narrow third-term victory in Britain's national elections on Thursday, a vote that appeared to reflect public opposition to the U.S. and British-led war in Iraq (search).

Bush, who left Friday for a five-day, four-country tour of central and eastern Europe, called Blair from Air Force One to congratulate him on his re-election, said White House spokeswoman Corry Schiermeyer.

But the congratulations may have been subdued.

Official results showed Blair's party won re-election with a majority in the House of Commons, enough to form a government — but with sharply reduced margins from the current breakdown.

That could pave the way for Blair's replacement by a Labour Party (search) rival.

The White House reacted cautiously on Thursday to the vote.

Widespread anger over Blair's role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and outspoken support for Bush appeared to have taken a toll, although an improving economy over Blair's eight years was said to have helped his party win an unprecedented third term.

Before the actual vote count, presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said he did not want to speculate on what the ramifications of a narrow victory for Blair's party might be.

After official returns began rolling in, White House spokeswoman Erin Healy said late Thursday that she had nothing to add to earlier White House wait-and-see reactions to the election outcome.

The narrow victory could complicate future U.S.-British dealings in Iraq.

Bush had not explicitly endorsed Blair. White House officials cited a practice of not getting involved in election politics of other nations. But Bush made no secret of his fondness for Blair.

McClellan previously said that Blair "has been a good friend of the president and a strong ally in the war on terrorism and we appreciate the partnership."

Bush saw his own November re-election as a vindication of his handling of Iraq, although polls showed widespread doubts among Americans about whether Bush should have gone to war.

Bush also publicly took satisfaction in Australian Prime Minister John Howard's (search) re-election and the recent vote of confidence in Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (search), while playing down former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's (search) defeat.

Like Blair, Howard, Berlusconi and Aznar strongly supported Bush's Iraq policy and sent troops to Iraq.

And all drew sharp criticism at home for that support.

In Blair's case, the criticism focused heavily on the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, which both he and Bush had said were the prime rationale for overthrowing Saddam Hussein.

Blair often seemed more popular in the United States than in his own country, self-assuredly defending the war in a speech to a joint meeting of Congress and standing alongside Bush at many joint news conferences.

But that lockstep support for the president made him the subject of ridicule at home. Some British commentators and political rivals slammed him as Bush's "poodle," a characterization that angered White House aides.

The left-center prime minister was closer in political views and temperament to former President Clinton than to Bush, but he established close bonds with both U.S. presidents.

Clinton publicly endorsed Blair last month during a satellite linkup to a Labour Party rally in London.

Blair was one of the first foreign leaders to visit Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas. And in November 2003, Blair took Bush on a tour of his hometown in the northern English industrial town of Sedgefield.