The GOP sweep
Both history and sheer mathematics were against him, but President Bush picked up seats for his party in both the House and Senate in November's crucial mid-term elections. Only two presidents before him had actually gained House seats in their first mid-term elections, and the Senate wins were even sweeter, putting Republicans back in control of the upper chamber's legislative machinery.
Only one incumbent Republican senator, Tim Hutchinson of Arkansas, lost his re-election bid. Republicans, by contrast, knocked off two incumbents (in Georgia and Missouri), gained one open Democratic seat (in Minnesota), and successfully defended a slew of their own open seats, including New Hampshire, both Carolinas, Tennessee, and Texas.
In a year of economic turmoil, many governorships changed hands, as expected. But Republicans lost fewer than many had predicted, maintaining a narrow, 26-24 lead when the dust had settled. Among the shockers: Liberal bastions like Maryland and Hawaii elected Republicans for the first time in a generation, while Massachusetts put a pro-life Mormon in the governor's mansion. In the deep South, three Democrats elected four years ago with the help of Bill Clinton all went down to defeat, shoring up GOP claims on the "Solid South." On the flip side, some traditionally Republican states bucked their trends, as well. Both Arizona and Oklahoma elected Democrats, potentially ending the political careers of Matt Salmon and Steve Largent, two cultural conservative stars.
After two hurricanes (Isidore and Lilly) landed only glancing blows, Southerners may have been feeling good about the 2002 storm season. But then came two days of fierce tornadoes, following a violent cold front that moved from the Southeast into the Midwest. More than 35 people died in the 70 twisters spawned by the storm, including 17 in Tennessee and 10 in Alabama. The strongest winds--more than 200 mph--were recorded as far north as Ohio.
Chastened Democrats back in Washington for some lame-duck lawmaking finally gave the president what he'd been wanting for months: a Homeland Security bill. A weakened Tom Daschle grumbled and groaned but let the massive bill proceed to the floor, where three Democrats joined a nearly unanimous GOP to pass the legislation. Only Sen. John McCain voted "nay" on the Republican side of the aisle.
The administration was able to tout another security landmark, as well: On Nov. 17, the last of America's airport screeners became federal employees, marking one of the federal government's biggest hiring binges ever. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta boasted that 44,000 new employees of the Transportation Security Administration were trained and on the job, though he admitted that his department wouldn't meet a congressional deadline of Dec. 31 for screening every bag on every flight.