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GOP HOLDING CONTROL OF CONGRESS
DEMOCRATS' HOPES DASHED AS BOTH HOUSES TILT MORE TO RIGHT

WASHINGTON -- Incomplete returns indicate that the Democrats' long-shot hopes of regaining control of Congress did not materialize in Tuesday's voting.

Both houses will remain in GOP hands, and it is clear they will be more partisan than they are now, with several outspoken social conservatives winning Senate seats and the pending retirement of the nucleus of the Republican moderate alliance in the House.

To prevail, House Democrats would have had to overcome a 28-seat Republican majority to return to control after 10 years. But a prediction by Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence, that local issues and campaign strategies would be in play, not national issues, seemed to be the case.

As chairman of the House Republican Campaign Committee, Reynolds' bid to bolster the GOP's grip on the chamber was helped by redistricting in Texas that had two senior Democratic incumbents, Reps. Martin Frost and Charles Stenholm struggling for survival.

The probable gains in Texas were offset by losses in New York and Pennsylvania. If final returns indicate that the Republicans were able to maintain a double-digit majority in the face of the strongest Democratic House campaign in a decade, Reynolds will enjoy enhanced prestige in the party.

In the Senate, Republicans were headed to retain their majority as they took Democratic seats in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

The GOP appears guaranteed of winning at least 50 seats, and they could get more. The Associated Press said final tallies could stretch the Republicans' Senate majority to 54. Republicans now number 51 in the current Senate.

There was no clear-cut result early today in the most closely watched race in Congress -- between Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and his Republican challenger, former Rep. Jim Thune.

Only 250 votes separated the two men in a race that cost $26 million in a state easily won last night and in 2000 by President Bush.

Thune pounded Daschle for supporting filibusters mounted by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., to block confirmation of many of Bush's judicial nominees.

Schumer himself crushed Republican Howard Mills with 71 percent of the vote and now is weighing a run for governor in two years.

Even if Daschle survives this bruising campaign, his standing as a leader will be badly bruised and Senate Democrats may cast about for a new leader, perhaps New York's Hillary Rodham Clinton who campaigned ardently across the nation for Sen. John F. Kerry, and donated liberally to fellow Democrats.

In New York, Reynolds, who was preoccupied with his national campaign, saw his 2002 margin of 70 percent narrowed to just 55 percent in his faceoff with Democratic industrialist Jack Davis of Akron. In Buffalo, Democratic Assemblyman Brian H i g g i n s claimed a paper-thin victory over Republican Comptroller Nancy Naples.

The Republican's congressional campaign said the Higgins-Naples race was of national importance. A Higgins win would represent a loss of one seat in the state's Republican delegation. The incumbent, Republican Jack Quinn, is retiring.

Democratic State Sen. Barack Obama, a political star in the making, easily captured a seat formerly in Republican hands in Illinois, and will be the only black among 100 senators when the new Congress convenes in January.

In Georgia, Republican Rep. Johnny Isakson took the Senate seat vacated by Democrat Zell Miller, who put Bush's name in nomination at the Republican National Convention and gave the audience a rousingly partisan speech attacking Kerry.

Miller sided with the Democrats for organization purposes but almost never voted with them on legislation. Right-wing Republican Jim DeMint took South Carolina. Rep. Richard Burr followed suit in North Carolina, defeating President Bill Clinton's one-time chief of staff, Erskine Bowles.

e-mail: dturner@buffnews.com