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The Republican takeover of the Senate was close to two years in the making, the strategy hammered out by Rove and various high-ranking G.O.P. activists in secret meetings held everywhere from Capitol Hill brasseries to West Virginia golf courses. By the eve of the election, G.O.P. polls projected a big turnout by Republican voters energized by Bush's full-court press: he visited 15 states in the past five days. Democratic strategists, meanwhile, underestimated his pull. "Bush's coattails were far more effective than anybody on our side thought," says a top Democratic operative. "We thought his popularity numbers were soft."
They weren't. Twenty-one out of the 23 House members and 12 of the 16 Senate candidates Bush campaigned for won their races. The results were momentous. Only three other times in the past century has a President's party gained seats in the House in an off-year election, and not since the Civil War has the President's party won back a Senate majority in a midterm contest. Bush will be the first Republican President since Dwight Eisenhower to enjoy outright majorities in the House and Senate.
Democrats could do little more than insist on their relevance. "We're not going away," Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle said. "We're going to be fighting for the things we believe in." The loss of control may actually give Daschle more flexibility: sources tell TIME that as majority leader he often held his fire to guard against the defection of Georgia Democrat Zell Miller, who threatened to leave the party if Daschle came down too hard on the President. But Daschle and the rest of the party leadership have yet to lay out a compelling alternative to the President's agenda, in part because party members can't decide whether or not to fight it. Democrats in the Senate are divided over whether to support the White House's push to make its tax cuts permanent, and all but the most liberal members have gone silent on the Administration's hawkish foreign policy.
In the House, the resignation of minority leader Richard Gephardt set off a fight for the soul of the party. His probable replacement, Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, is an unapologetic member of the party's liberal wing--most recently she led the fight against the President's drive for congressional authorization to strike Iraq--and a scion of a minor Democratic dynasty: her father served in Congress and as mayor of Baltimore, a job her brother also held. (Her daughter Alexandra became friendly with Bush while making Journeys with George, a documentary about his presidential campaign.) The apparent anointment of Pelosi, a dynamic fund raiser who would be the first female party leader in Congress, cheered Republican strategists, who expect her to try to revive the party by picking fights with the White House. Pelosi says she's ready for combat: "We cannot allow Republicans to pretend they share our values and then legislate against those values without consequence."