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Implications of Nov. 2 are cloudy

WASHINGTON - Americans woke up Nov. 3 in a nation as sharply divided on the
details of policy as before. But at least now they're divided behind one
undisputed leader.

President George W. Bush won a second term with more votes, probably more
than 60 million once all ballots are counted, than any president has ever
received before. That was enough to deliver the popular vote, 51 percent to
48 percent for Democratic challenger John Kerry. With millions of absentee
and provisional ballots still to be counted, and Iowa and New Mexico not
finally tallied, Kerry could well reach 49 percent of the popular vote, but
it is mathematically impossible for him to overtake the president's total.

In the Electoral College, Bush could count 274 electors once the Ohio
popular vote went his way, to 252 for Kerry. The totals may change
depending on how Iowa and New Mexico report their popular vote. But with
270 electoral votes needed for victory, Bush is in. The Electoral College,
not the popular vote, ultimately decides the presidency.

But after the disputed election of 2000, in which Bush lost the popular
vote but prevailed in the Electoral College, a more convincing victory was
important to the president's ability to lead.

Surprisingly to many pollsters and pundits, the president's victory was
decisive. Many had predicted the presidential race one way or the other, of
course. But if anyone foresaw that Republicans would win almost every close
vote, from the presidency on down through the House, Senate and
gubernatorial elections, they kept it to themselves.

But that is what happened. With Sen. Lisa Murkowski's late victory in
Alaska, Republicans had gained four seats in the Senate. That crucial gain
increased their majority from the thin margin of the 108th Congress, 51 to
48 with one Democratic-leaning Independent, to a solid 55 to 44 and the one
Independent. With the GOP five votes shy of the 60 needed to end a
filibuster, Democrats will still be able to play defense against various
Republican initiatives and Bush's judicial appointments.

But how far they'll be willing to go in foiling the Republican president's
policies is another question. Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., the Senate Minority
Leader, became the first senate leader to lose at the ballot box in more
than 50 years. John Thune, his Republican challenger, prevailed by about
4,000 votes. Already a personal friend and close political confederate of
the president's, Thune enters the Senate with a huge endorsement from the
party for toppling Daschle, viewed by Republicans as the "obstructionist in
chief" for his resistance to the GOP agenda.

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In the House of Representatives, Republicans stood to gain a half-dozen
seats or more at press time. If projections hold in four late-reporting
districts, the GOP majority would stand at 234 to 200, with one Independent
vote going Democratic.

With solid majorities in both chambers, Bush will be able to act on an
agenda that includes continued tax cuts, Supreme Court appointments, health
care reforms, the overhaul of the Social Security system and the
stabilization of Iraq - though no one seems certain of how he'll proceed on
these priorities. He is sure to continue the reforms now in effect at the
BIA. According to Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, the retiring Colorado
Republican, the Bush administration may also move to settle the trust funds
lawsuit known as Cobell, after lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell. With Daschle
out of power - the South Dakotan brought an enormous knowledge of Indian
country to the Senate's Democratic leadership post, and Cobell had endorsed
him - the Senate's ability to stymie settlement litigation is less than it
was.

One certain feature of the 43rd president's second term will be a campaign
to increase Republican congressional seats in the mid-term elections of
2006. Unusually for a president in power, Bush oversaw a gain of seats in
the 2002 midterms. A similar performance in 2006 might well give the GOP a
filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

For Democrats, the question of the hour is not what the Kerry campaign
might have done better, though the issue is already getting a great deal of
air. But the question Democrats must get around to is whether they can
still win national elections with the party's left wing in tow. With 120
million Americans casting ballots on Nov. 2, America emerged as a
right-of-center nation where, at crunch time anyway, people vote their
values ahead of their pocketbooks.

That being the state of the nation, Democrats have had every opportunity to
lead it in 2000 and again in 2004. But in 2000, the party's left wing
defected to third-party candidate Ralph Nader in just enough numbers to
give Bush the White House (with an assist from the Supreme Court, of
course). In 2004, the problem on the Democratic left came from the gay
rights community. Karl Rove, Bush's leading political advisor, concluded
long ago that Republicans would win the popular vote for president in 2004
if they could get evangelical Christians into the voting booth. But this
wouldn't be easy, given the principled disdain of evangelicals for
politics. So six months ago, when a Massachusetts court ruled that
taxpayers should have to pay for gay partnerships defined as marriage, the
GOP seized upon a potential vulnerability. Given that in thousands of years
of building the institution of marriage, Christians had never considered it
a same-sex proposition, the issue might just bring out the evangelicals.

In no time, propositions to ban same-sex marriage got onto 11 state
ballots. One of them was Ohio. When Florida went for Bush, Ohio became the
one state neither candidate could not do without. Because Ohio lost more
jobs under Bush than any other state, the Kerry camp had a good chance at
winning it, one would have thought. But as it turned out, exit polls found
one in four Ohioans self-identifying as evangelical Christians. If that
sample holds true throughout the total electorate in Ohio Nov. 2, then
almost 1.2 million of Ohio's 5.7 million or so voters were evangelical
Christians. Many of them might have voted with or without the same-sex
marriage proposition on the ballot. But Kerry lost the state, and with it
the presidency, by about 137,000 votes, before the counting of absentee and
provisional ballots.

Attention now turns to the "lame duck" session of Congress, scheduled to
commence Nov. 16.