GOP Slips in Congress; Democrats Map Strategy 1 Senate, 2 House Races Undecided

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- Republicans took nervous stock yesterday of their congressional majorities, smaller in the House and approaching the vanishing point in the Senate. Democrats vowed to press for their campaign agenda in the new Congress.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle called his party's unexpectedly large Senate gains a "historic affirmation" of a platform that includes a patients bill of rights and proposals to reduce class size.

In the House, Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri said he would seek another term as the Democratic Party's leader if the rank and file are "willing to have me."

After two years of frosty relations with Republican leadership, Gephardt placed a call to Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., part of an effort to "see if we can get things on a better, more collaborative plane here."

With a Washington state Senate race and two House seats too close to call, the makeup of the 107th Congress looked like this: Republicans control 220 seats in the House, to 211 for the Democrats. There are two independents, one aligned with each party. Republicans have 50 Senate seats, to 49 for the Democrats.

That pointed to a Democratic pickup of two seats in the House and at least three in the Senate after the costliest campaign in history.

The undecided House seats were held by incumbents: Republican Clay Shaw of Florida and Democrat Rush Holt of New Jersey.

In the Washington Senate race, former Democratic Rep. Maria Cantwell was providing a stiff challenge to incumbent Republican Sen. Slade Gorton.

But the final Senate lineup was unpredictable, too, because of the unsettled presidential race. A Democratic win there would send Sen. Joseph Lieberman to the vice presidency, and allow Connecticut's Republican governor to appoint a replacement.

As in any election, there were transitions aplenty.

Sen.-elect Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., said she intends to fulfill her public duties as first lady while preparing to become a member of Congress.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott greeted her election tartly.

"I tell you one thing, when this Hillary gets to the Senate -- if she does, maybe lightning will strike and she won't -- she will be one of 100 and we won't let her forget it," the Republican said.

In Missouri, Republican Sen. John Ashcroft conceded defeat in his race against the late Gov. Mel Carnahan, whose widow is in line to receive a Senate appointment. Some Republicans in Washington talked of a court challenge, but Ashcroft said he would have none of that.

"I believe that the will of the people has been expressed," he said.

Several House GOP aides said the entire upper echelon of the leadership would likely be re-elected to new terms when the lawmakers meet next week. That included Hastert, Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, GOP Whip Tom DeLay of Texas, and Rep. …