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It turned out even better than the White House had anticipated. Once Bush hit the campaign trail, Republican candidates played up their advantages on national-security issues to voters nervous about terrorism and the threat posed by Iraq. Democrats tried to focus on the economy, but the party never settled on an alternative to Bush's policies of big tax cuts and increased spending. "The most important thing was the message that we were trying to articulate," says Democratic Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the top deputy to Daschle. "It did not go any place. People were more interested in Sept. 11, the sniper and the Iraq war."
While the overall victory margin was small, the Administration prevailed in most of its high-priority races. In Georgia, Saxby Chambliss coasted to an upset win over incumbent Max Cleland, while Norm Coleman came back to defeat Walter Mondale in Minnesota. As soon as the final returns came in, Lott accelerated his plans for assuming control. Early last week he began courting Dean Barkley, the Independent appointed to serve out the last two months of the late Democrat Paul Wellstone's term. If Lott can lure Barkley to vote with the Republicans, he would effectively wrest control of the lame-duck Senate away from Daschle--before the new Congress is seated in January. "We're offering to be helpful to [Barkley] in any way we can," Lott told TIME. The White House is interested too: on Thursday Lott received a call from Cheney, who was on a hunting trip in South Dakota. Lott told Cheney he was working on Barkley. The two traded hunting stories. "Did you bag any Democrats out there?" Lott cracked.
The same day, Lott held a conference call with the 50 other Senators and Senators-elect across the country, to begin mapping out a legislative agenda. If he manages to seize control of the lame-duck session, Lott plans to push through Bush's homeland-security bill, which Democrats blocked because of the White House's refusal to extend civil servant benefits to employees of the new Department of Homeland Security. They won't try that again. Bush hammered the Senate as soft on terrorism for opposing the plan, and Democrats like Cleland were vulnerable to the charge. "The President will get what he wants on homeland security because of the political corpse of Max Cleland," says conservative lobbyist Grover Norquist.