Obama’s Democrats facing debacle in Congress elections

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

WASHINGTON - Two years after his triumphal election as the first black leader of the US, President Barack Obama and his Democratic Party were bracing Tuesday for major losses in mid-term legislative elections.

All 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 37 seats in the 100-member Senate are up for grabs as well as governorships and many state and local positions.

Polling suggests Republicans are highly likely to gain more than the 39 seats they need to reclaim a majority in the lower House, with the support of independent voters who put Obama in office two years ago.

Control of the Senate is less certain, but likely to remain in the hands of Democrats, who have held majorities in both chambers of Congress since 2006.

Thirty-seven state governorships will also be decided Tuesday, including a successor to California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger. Democratic stalwart and ex-governor Jerry Brown is running against Meg Whitman, former eBay executive.

In a last-minute bid to stem the losses, Obama made a round of radio interviews with such popular personalities like Ryan Seacrest, of “American Idol” fame. Former Democratic president Bill Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama were on the campaign trail Monday in key states like West Virginia and Nevada.

Obama and his left-leaning Democratic Party have been in damage-control mode for months as voters vent their frustrations at an economy and labour market that have remained sluggish.

“Obama didn’t have any strategy. It has been a great disappointment,” said Susan Allen, in her 60s, as she cast her vote in New York City.

But Maureen, a woman in her 30s who did not want to give her last name, defended the president.

“We are in difficult times. To blame Obama is not accurate,” she said in New York.

Opinion polls have suggested a landslide. Gallup’s final poll Monday found that 55 percent of likely voters preferred Republican candidates, while only 40 percent would elect Democrats.

With many neck-and-neck races across the country and ballots counted across six time zones, it will likely be a long night before final results are known. First polls close at 2300 on the East Coast. Some races could take days to sort out.

The conservative movement has been galvanized by the rise of the Tea Party, a grassroots movement of voters angry with incumbent politicians and the expansion of government under Obama. “Dump Incumbents” signs peppered the streets in and around Washington D.C.

Tea Party-backed candidates toppled a series of more established Republicans in primary races with their outsider message, but have been branded extremists by Democrats and some Republicans.

The Republican Party’s takeover of Congress, together with the Tea Party’s uncompromising stance on most political issues, has many predicting legislative gridlock during Obama’s next two years in office leading up to the 2012 presidential elections.

Obama’s approval ratings have fallen below 50 percent during his second year in office, as unemployment remains near 10 percent and voters feel the government has overreached with massive spending programmes and reforms of health care and the financial sector.

Steve Krasnow, 59, a lifelong Democrat, reflected the deep disillusionment many Democrats have with their president, saying the country needed to get back to its “entrepreneurial spirit”.

“We had a bad president as a Republican (Bush) - this guy (Obama) is even worse,” he said as he headed to vote.

will not be displayed