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History shows “coattail” effect not so crucial to presidents

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When Democrats won back control of the House and Senate in 1954 – and kept it through the Eisenhower administration – "it was a blessing in disguise," wrote Eisenhower biographer Jean Edward Smith. In short, Eisenhower made a tactical shift to the Democrats. Born in Texas, he developed close relations with House Speaker Sam Rayburn and Senate majority leader Lyndon Johnson. The "three Texans" met weekly in joint strategy sessions that produced the Interstate Highway System and the St. Lawrence Seaway, expanded Social Security, raised the minimum wage, and established the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

President Jimmy Carter (D) – a former Georgia governor who campaigned as a Washington "outsider" and tried to govern that way, too – never established a working relationship with the Democrat-controlled Congress. Lawmakers complained that he lectured them and piled on more priorities than could be handled. Carter's agenda barely registered on Capitol Hill.

Divided party control of Congress is not fatal

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