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How the White House plans to act on its new mandate, though, isn't clear. Members of both parties say Bush has stockpiled all the support he needs to go to war against Saddam Hussein. "You won't hear as much complaining out of Congress about not being consulted," says a senior House Republican aide. Tuesday's election suggests that Bush has loosened the country's 50-50 deadlock--Republican candidates won 53% of all votes cast in congressional and gubernatorial races--but not by much. In his first two years, Bush kept his conservative base happy but was also known to compromise on issues like education and campaign finance. Like Eisenhower's, Bush's popularity rests heavily on his prestige as Commander in Chief rather than on deep support for his domestic policies. Even with the Senate in G.O.P. hands, Bush will still have to court Democrats if he hopes to accomplish his goals and preserve his appeal to swing voters. It's no coincidence that in his news conference last Thursday, Bush identified passage of homeland-security legislation as the top priority on his agenda and bristled at the suggestion that he takes cues from his conservative base. "I don't take cues from anybody," he said.
Bush was so confident of last Tuesday's results that he threw an election-night party at the White House's family dining room. The party was officially billed as a celebration of George and Laura Bush's 25th wedding anniversary, but the gifts had barely been presented and the roast beef served before White House staff members wheeled in a television set for the President and his guests to watch the returns. Bush instructed aides to bring in election updates as soon as they got them from the Republican National Committee. Soon after a dessert of chocolate layer cake and coconut ice cream arrived, an aide handed Bush a phone: his father was calling from Florida to tell him that Bush's brother Jeb was running well in the Governor's race. A few minutes later, the networks called the race for Jeb. "Get my brother on the phone," Bush told an aide, and grinned at his guests. "I don't want him running too much better than I did down there."
Once the food had been cleared, a few guests--including House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Representative Tom Davis, the G.O.P.'s congressional campaign chair--ducked out to get back to their war rooms. But when Lott tried to leave, Bush pulled him into a sitting room outfitted with more TV monitors and jangling phones. As the results of close Senate races came in, Bush placed congratulatory calls to Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina and John Sununu in New Hampshire, handed the phone to Lott, then dialed another number. "He clearly was having fun," Lott says. After the fifth call, Lott tried to excuse himself, telling Bush he needed to go back to his office. "No, no. Stay," Bush said. "Let's see how this thing turns out."