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Winners! (And Losers)--2002 Edition

Around the horn with last night's victors and vanquished.

8:20 AM, Nov 6, 2002 • By FRED BARNES
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THE ERA WHEN THE PARTY that doesn't hold the White House automatically gains seats in the House and sometimes seats in the Senate as well--is over. Democrats bucked that century-old habit in 1998, winning 5 House seats while Bill Clinton was president. And Republicans, led by President Bush, did it even more decisively in yesterday's congressional election. For the first time ever, the presidential party captured control of the Senate in a midterm election.

There's one particular reason for the death of the off-year trend: House incumbents have safer seats than ever now. When new districts are drawn every 10 years, they're done, first and foremost, with incumbent protection in mind. If an incumbent isn't popular, his new district will be gerrymandered to be especially safe. Should the other party think about reapportioning an incumbent out of a seat, he will join in a back room deal that protects incumbents of both his party and the opposition's. As for senators, they've only occasionally been subject to the midterm election rule. They certainly weren't this year.

So much for history. Let's get to the winners and losers in the 2002 midterm election. The top winner, of course, was President Bush, whose furious campaigning for Senate and House Republicans was a gamble that paid off handsomely. No president has spent so much time stumping for so many candidates of his party in so short a time. Bush emerged as the dominant figure in the campaign, creating a GOP tilt that affected races all over the country. Democrats who won, like Jennifer Granholm in the Michigan governor's race, did so by smaller margins than expected. And vulnerable Republicans such as Rep. Clay Shaw of Florida won by surprisingly large margins.

Another winner: Bush's White House adviser Karl Rove. He guided the president in handpicking Senate candidates in Minnesota and South Dakota and in clearing the field in Texas for John Cornyn to be the Republican Senate candidate. Rove also figured correctly that the best way to keep the House in GOP hands was to forge state-by-state agreements with Democrats to protect their incumbents along with Republican incumbents. He advised Republican leaders accordingly and, since Rove is the president's political guru, they obeyed. It worked.

Winner: Ralph Reed, the Republican chairman of Georgia. He promised not to be outdone by Democrats in turning out his party's voters--and he wasn't outdone. Georgia produced two huge upsets against popular Democratic incumbents, ousting Sen. Max Cleland and Gov. Roy Barnes. You may remember Reed from his former life as the brains behind the Christian Coalition when it was important political group, which it no longer is.

Winner: Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, who chairs the Senate GOP campaign committee. He's a hands-on chairman who took a few risks. One risky decision was to pump money into Louisiana to back Suze Terrell and attack Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu. The goal was to hold Landrieu below 50 percent and force a runoff. It was achieved. Terrell will now face Landrieu in a runoff on December 7. Frist decided where every dime of GOP money would go and even reviewed the scripts of all TV ads.

Winner: Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, Frist's counterpart in the House. Davis is a political junkie who knows more about every House seat than anyone on the planet. And it showed. He recruited an impressive group of Republican candidates, intervening in internal GOP fights when necessary. He also got the president to make appearances for Republican candidates in competitive districts. That's mere House candidates, not Senate. Davis did so well that Republicans won two House seats in Georgia that have been carved out for Democrats.

Loser: The biggest one is Tom Daschle, who loses his post as Senate Majority Leader. Daschle approved the strategy of having Democratic candidates avoid fights with Bush, stay fuzzy on controversial issues, and emphasize attacks on their Republican opponents. The best example of a Democratic candidate who followed this advice was Gov. Jean Shaheen of New Hampshire, seen by columnist Bob Novak as having run a perfect campaign. She lost anyway in her Senate contest against Republican representative John Sununu.

Loser: Bill Clinton. He engineered the nomination of Democrat Carl McCall for governor of New York. McCall ran a disastrous campaign and lost ignominiously to GOP governor George Pataki. Clinton campaigned in Florida for Democrat Bill McBride, but his appearance probably hurt more than it helped. And his mission in Arkansas to put Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jimmie Lou Fisher over the top failed miserably.