Jewish World Review Nov. 2, 2004 / 18 Mar-Cheshvan, 5765

Carl P. Leubsdorf

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Start uniting as soon as the polls close | Tonight this contentious campaign will be over. It is hoped either George W. Bush or John Kerry will emerge as the undisputed winner. But regardless of the outcome, it will take accommodations by both sides to cut through the acrimony and give the American people a government that concentrates on solving problems rather than making political points for the next election.

For the winner, that means a genuine effort to reach out beyond the confines of his hard-core supporters in forming a government and formulating policy. For the loser, it means accepting the results and avoiding the post-election bitterness that has marked several recent elections.

Unfortunately, the omens are not good. Not only have both campaigns continued the overheated rhetoric that has marked much of the campaign, both are preparing for protracted post-election legal battles of the sort that marked the monthlong struggle over the disputed results in Florida in 2000.

Both parties are deploying substantial legal teams into key battleground states, ostensibly to ensure that legitimate voters can cast their ballots and to block potentially illegal ones from doing so.

Given the widespread expectations of a record voter turnout and the probability that many localities may have trouble coping with it, the potential exists for substantial problems Tuesday, including concerted efforts to intimidate legitimate voters.

Of course, that would only create a real crisis if the election proves as close as it was four years ago, when the fate of the presidency hung on the outcome in a single state won by just 537 votes.

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Judging from the narrowness of many national and state polls, that remains a distinct possibility with principal attention on two potentially decisive electoral prizes, Ohio and Florida.

But even assuming that next week plays out relatively peacefully and produces a clear winner, that would only be the start of a post-election transition that could be crucial in make the next four years are less contentious and more constructive than the last four.

After all, certain aspects of the post-election landscape are already clear, even before most ballots are cast.

Republicans almost certainly will continue to control the House for the next two years. The GOP also has a good chance of keeping its majority in the Senate, though the next Senate could be divided as narrowly as the current one.

That means that, while a re-elected President Bush would at least retain his current numerical congressional margins, he would still be short of a solid working majority in the Senate, where it often takes 60 votes to do business.

And it means that, if John Kerry is elected, he'll have to govern with an antagonistic Republican House and probably even a GOP-controlled Senate, though one in which he would have some Republican support on some issues.

Under these circumstances, it would seem vital for the winner to do two things Bush refused to do four years ago, despite the narrow margin by which he won the White House.

One is to make a real effort to enlist significant members of the opposition party for major positions in his Cabinet. For example, there has been speculation that Kerry might choose a prominent Republican as secretary of state or defense.

The second is to reach out on policy to the other party in an attempt to find middle ground.

A President Kerry might have no choice but to do that if he is to govern successfully with a Republican Congress. But it might also be important for a re-elected President Bush to do a better job of living up to the vow to be "a uniter, not a divider" that was one of the casualties of his first term decision to govern mainly through his conservative base.

That would be a good start in trying to avoid the second term troubles that have befallen most re-elected presidents in the past century. And it would surely be welcomed by the large majority of Americans who are sick of the partisan wrangling of recent years.

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Carl P. Leubsdorf is Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Comment by clicking here.



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