Obama humbled by US elections after two years in office
Washington: US President Barack Obama will have no choice but to work with Republicans to pass the rest of his domestic legislative agenda after his Democratic Party suffered a landslide defeat in congressional elections.
The conservative Republican Party captured more than 50 seats in the House of Representatives in Tuesday's election, a result that leaves them in firm control of the lower chamber for the first time since 2006.
Republicans also made significant gains in the US Senate, but projections showed Democrats maintained a slim majority of at least 50 seats in the 100-member upper chamber.
Tuesday's defeat comes after Obama was elected in 2008 on a message of change that energised voters across the political spectrum. Two years later pollster John Zogby said it was clear that "change is in the air" once again.
The massive losses suffered by Obama's Democrats were largely due to the weak state of the US economy, which is likely to be the top priority when the new Congress convenes in January.
Exit polls from Tuesday's election found that more than 60 percent of voters rated the sluggish economy as their top concern. Unemployment remains stuck at 9.6 percent and the world's largest economy grew a meagre 2 percent in the third quarter of this year.
Obama used much of his political capital in the first two years to pass controversial overhauls of health care and financial regulation. Critics argue the efforts distracted from the task of repairing the economy, while other voters complain that Obama overreached by expanding the role of government over key sectors of the economy.
Republican John Boehner, who is set to lead the House in January, said the election results marked "a repudiation of Washington, a repudiation of big government, and a repudiation of politicians who refused to listen to the American people".
The shift in congressional power means Obama will have to curb his ambitions as he tries to work with Republicans in the next few years. Some major casualties are likely to be efforts to tackle climate change and reform immigration laws.
The Democratic Party's defeat means Republicans will once again have a hand in governing. In a US capital that has become intensely polarised over the last few years, the question will be if there are areas where the two sides can find common ground.
Obama charged often in his first few years that Republicans refused to work with the new president on key legislative issues. With control of Congress now divided, Republicans could share some blame in the coming years if the economy does not improve.
"It's a lot easier to run against a 'do nothing' Congress that's run by the opposition than it is to run against a 'do nothing' Congress that is run by your own party," Zogby said.
Obama spoke with Boehner as the results became clear Tuesday night. US media have speculated that Obama may call a "summit" with Republicans some time in November to discuss a way forward.
But the Republican victories Tuesday night were not just a rejection of Obama, they were a broader rejection of lawmakers. Voters threw out incumbents and showed disillusionment with both parties.
Approval ratings for Obama have hovered around 45 percent for much of this year. Approval of Congress has been stuck just below 20 percent, according to averages compiled by realclearpolitics.com.
"There were no heroes and there's no love from voters," Zogby said. Obama and the Democrats' missteps of the past two years "did spell victory for Republicans, but not love".
Yet even if Republicans now have a governing role, John Fortier of the conservative Washington-based American Enterprise Institute said the responsibility will still be on Obama to drive the legislative agenda in the coming year.
"The ultimate focus will be on the president," Fortier said. "How the president himself recovers from the election will be much more important than (what) Republicans do."