White House: We've made history
From John King
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush and the Republican Party have made history, making key gains in congressional midterm elections, the White House declared early Wednesday.
Around 1:30 a.m., White House spokesman Ari Fleischer announced that for the first time in U.S. history the president's party gained seats in the House during the administration's first midterm elections. He also noted that the same Republican coup d'etat was accomplished in the Senate.
"The president played a very constructive role in making history, historical trends are very hard to break," Fleischer said during a call to reporters. "Not only have we kept the House, but we've gained seats. This is the first time since the Civil War."
Bush stayed up into the early morning hours Wednesday as the White House grew increasingly confident Republicans would not only maintain control of the House but also recapture control of the Senate.
He wasn't disappointed. With victory in a Senate race in Missouri, Republicans took control of the Senate from Democrats. Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan conceded to her Republican challenger, Jim Talent, shortly after 1 a.m. (2 a.m. ET), securing at least 50 seats for the GOP.
Calls to winners
Before turning in for the night, the president called some two dozen Republicans winners, including his brother, Jeb, who was easily re-elected to a second term.
The president characterized it as a "big victory" and said "he was proud of his brother and of the campaign he ran," according to a White House official familiar with the conversation.
Bush made the call from the White House residence after having dinner with House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott, and the two chairmen of the GOP congressional campaign committees, Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee and Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia.
Unsuccessful candidates who got a call from the president included Congresswoman Connie Morella, who lost her bid for re-election in Maryland's 8th District.
Bush also called former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to thank him for campaigning for GOP candidates in the midterm cycle.
The president and first lady Laura Bush watched the results with family friends and senior staffers in the West Sitting Hall -- the first family's living room in the White House residence.
The president waged an unprecedented campaign effort -- campaigning in 40 states, shattering fund-raising records, and dispatching his vice president and Cabinet for months of near constant campaigning.
And as Tuesday gave way to Wednesday, White House officials were making the case that a president who had no coattails when he won a controversial election two years ago had put his prestige and popularity on the line in the midterm election and had come out ahead -- defying the midterm election tradition of the president's party losing seats.
Bush was updated throughout the night by his top two political aides, senior adviser Karl Rove and White House political director Ken Mehlman. Aides in the room dialed up Republicans on a cellular telephone and handed it off to the president for a series of congratulatory messages.
Bush has spent much of the past two years raising millions of dollars for GOP candidates. The White House put forth an unprecedented effort for a midterm campaign:
•Bush raised more than $200 million for the cycle, including more than $140 million this year.
• The president visited 40 states in all, 30 of them at least twice.
•Vice President Dick Cheney raised more than $40 million and traveled nearly constantly in the final months of the campaign, making roughly 30 trips since August.
•In the final month alone, 12 of the 14 members of the Bush Cabinet made stops in a combined 33 states.
"I think he's done something that I think President Clinton did not do in midterm races or even in his own re-election," said former Clinton White House Chief Of Staff John Podesta, "which is to use all of the authority of the White House to try to get some kind of electoral advantage.
"That's something that I think is within the bounds of the laws and regulations there are, but still I think it really is a first in American politics."
The political travel was coordinated by the White House office of political affairs, which several officials said kept a detailed list of activity by Bush team members, accounting for campaign stops and fund raising.
Officials refused to release the list, a reflection of White House sensitivity to Democratic criticism of the administration's level of political activity.