Splitsville On Capitol Hill

Palestinian and Israeli demonstrators struggle with Israeli troops during clashes in the West Bank village of Bilin near Ramallah, Friday, Feb. 23, 2007. Every Friday, scores of Israelis, Palestinians and foreign activists trudge to a small section of Israel's West Bank security barrier in a joint protest initially aimed at preventing its construction and now aimed at forcing its removal.
AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti
With Americans still glued to news from the Florida presidential recounts, most people haven't had time to consider the other big election story - the battle for the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives.

Even former House Speaker Newt Gingrich admits that the days of a Republican revolution are over.

"We are entering a four year period in which we as a nation will have to grow our own mandate, because no party and no candidate will be able to walk into this city with a mandate," said Gingrich, a Republican from Georgia.

Next year's Congress makes for the very definition of "divided government," reports CBS News Correspondent John Roberts.

In the Senate, pending the outcome of one still undecided race in Washington state, Republicans have either a one or two seat lead - or are tied dead even with the Democrats. In the House, the GOP majority is just nine seats.

The last time that the parties were this close was 1953. Despite Republican war hero Dwight Eisenhower's popularity, voters gave his GOP only a razor-thin majority on Capitol Hill. Even so, Congress still managed to get work done. In those days, Democratic and Republican leaders were political moderates - and friends.

"The numbers were the same in 1953-54, but the political culture was radically different," said Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, a thinktank. "It is rare now to find members of Congress from opposing parties who are best friends."

In fact, since Republicans won the House in 1994, Americans have witnessed a string of nasty and partisan congressional street fights: the Contract with America, a government shutdown, and the impeachment and trial of a Democratic president.

For the sake of the country, said former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell - a Democrat from Maine - the harsh rhetoric must end.

"I think they ought to recognize that the country is just about evenly divided," Mitchell said. "I think they ought to recognize and acknowledge that just because someone disagrees with you on a political issue doesn't make them evil or immoral."

Warren Rudman, a New Hampshire Republican who left the Senate in 1992, hopes Congress can find a way to put gridlock behind.

"It could be that they all recognize that there is such a split down the middle in this country that everybody ought to try to work in a more bi-partisan way," Rudman said. "It could be the silver lining to the dark cloud."

But with both parties at each other's throats over this election and already eyeing the next election in 2002, former Democratic congressman and ex-White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta of California said getting the two sides to work together may be impossible.

"They've been throwing grenades at one another," Panetta said. "The problem we've had over the last couple of years is that there's really very little trust between the congressionaleadership and between the president and the Congress. Nobody trusts people's word."

Can anyone fix this? Mitchell believes whoever the new president is, he must.

"It's a test of leadership," Mitchell said. It's another challenge that these men face, but which I think they're capable of rising to meet."

Yet no matter which man wins the presidency, half the new Congress will represent the loser's party and his voters. That's fresh meat for congressional rotweilers.

"I hate to say it, but I think it's true. There's gonna be a lot of bitterness on the Hill, because of the way this was fought out in Florida," said Rudman. "There's not a good feeling at the end of this election."

Another reason that the "permanent campaign" rhetoric may not cool down: Democrats didn't take Congress this time - but in 2002, there will be 20 Senate Republicans up for reelection, and just 13 Democrats. And with a number of Republican senators now over age 75, Democrats believe they have a good chance of taking the Senate in two years or less.

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