Americans Go to Polls in Legislative, Local Elections

American voters cast ballots Tuesday in congressional, state and local elections. The results will have a big impact on the last two years of the Bush administration.

The stakes in this election are incredibly high, with control of the U.S. Congress hanging in the balance.

In the weeks leading up to Election Day, polls showed most Americans want Democrats to hold the majority in the legislature. But in the final days of the campaign, with all House seats and one-third of the Senate contested, many races tightened.

Leaving nothing to chance, President Bush took to the road on behalf of Republican candidates, visiting 10 states in five days. In the final hours, he spent his time energizing the Republican base. "Republicans are going to turn out. It is going to be a great victory of November 7th!," he said.

He focused his efforts in states where Republicans are traditionally strong. Aides said his message was designed to reach far beyond the party faithful gathered in arenas, parks and airport hangars for last-minute campaign rallies

He urged them to vote, and to encourage others to do the same. "And as you are going into those polls remember, if you want your taxes low, vote Republican. And as you go to the polls remember we are at war and if you want this country to do everything in its power to protect you, and at the same time lay the foundation of peace for generations to come, vote Republican," he said.

The president sounded upbeat on election eve. But so did the top campaign strategist for Senate Democrats, Senator Charles Schumer of New York. "We feel very, very good for a couple of reasons. First, Democrats are more enthusiastic about voting than Republicans. Fifty two percent of Democrats say they are more enthusiastic about voting than usual. Thirty nine percent of Republicans say they are," he said.

Democrats hope that enthusiasm will translate into massive party gains in Congress. They need a net gain of 15 seats to take control of the House of Representatives, and six seats in the Senate.

Polls indicate they have a good chance of becoming the majority party in the 435-member House. But Senator Schumer acknowledges it will be much tougher to take over the 100-seat Senate. "We have never said we are going to take control of the Senate. We have said we are on the edge. That's where we are. I said the other day what I feel: the likelihood of four, five or six seats is greater than three or seven," he said.

Although congressional races are often won and lost on local and state issues, public opinion surveys show this year Iraq is the leading concern on the mind of the electorate.

Senator Schumer maintains the American people are hungry for change. But the president has been telling voters that the Democrats have no plans for dealing with the toughest problems facing the country, and, he says, Republicans have proven they can build the economy and keep America safe.