Unemployment rate: 9.6 percent. Presidential approval rating: 49 percent. Congressional approval: 26 percent.
Restive voters were not waiting for November to have their say. Republican nomination races gave them their bullhorn and they were using it with dramatic effect.
In one of the year's biggest upsets, Joe Miller, backed by Sarah Palin and the Tea Party Express, defeated GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, adding her to a column of incumbents pushed aside. Murkowski conceded a week after the Aug. 24 primary as the ballot count went against her. She later set about a long-shot campaign to win as a write-in candidate in November.
Unemployment rate: 9.6 percent. Presidential approval rating: 49 percent. Congressional approval: 23 percent.
Obama campaigned largely in urban areas in liberal states, his unpopularity such that many Democrats wanted to keep their distance from him in the home stretch. Former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden stepped in to fight for the cause in places where the president could not.
If Democrats used the health care law in their campaigns, it was to dissociate themselves from it. Some labored equally hard not to be tied to Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker demonized by Democrats' foes.
"Republicans are on offense and Democrats are running for cover," Boehner said. Democrats used every opportunity to remind voters of the bitter fruits of Republican governance. "They're offering more of the past," Biden said, "but on steroids."
Democrats had little doubt they were in for a drubbing Nov. 2.
Unemployment rate: 9.8 percent. Presidential approval rating: 47 percent. Congressional approval: 26 percent.
Obama was reflective the day after. He was not looking for asses to kick. Republicans won the House from the Democrats, shaved the Democratic majority in the Senate, picked up governorships and surged in state legislatures.
"You know," Obama said, "this is something that I think every president needs to go through."
"Now," he went on, "I'm not recommending for every future president that they take a shellacking like I did last night. You know, I'm sure there are easier ways to learn these lessons."
Said Pelosi: "Nine-and-a-half percent unemployment is a very eclipsing event."
The tea party demonstrated both its potency and its limits. Republican House candidates backed by the activists are coming to Washington by the dozens. Yet some Republicans are quietly convinced they would have won the Senate, too, if not for a collection of flawed candidates chosen with tea party support.
Tea party favorites won Senate seats in Florida, Kentucky and Utah, but lost in Nevada, Delaware and Colorado. In Alaska, Murkowski's improbable write-in campaign succeeded.
Obama blew off some steam at a pickup basketball game, coming away with a gashed lower lip needing 12 stitches.
The year drew to a close with the government in a defensive crouch against the drip-drip-drip of WikiLeaks disclosures. The first hundreds to be released, in a cache of more than 250,000 State Department cables coming out, proved a huge embarrassment for Washington in its dealings with other nations, and followed the leak of nearly half a million documents from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
But Obama moved aggressively to achieve an arms control treaty with Russia in the waning days of the lame-duck session, an effort bound to strengthen U.S. credibility abroad if it succeeds this week.
A burst of bipartisanship came back, this time with teeth. Democratic leaders found enough Republican support to repeal the military gay ban. After 17 years, the "don't ask, don't tell" rule on the sexual orientation of troops is giving way to one that says it doesn't matter.
Although Obama has probably called the Republicans' bluff on their vow to repeal "Obamacare" — they won't have the votes — he has to deal with them on a broad front now. He compromised on tax cuts in the lame-duck session, agreeing to extend lower rates for the rich as well as the middle class before their expiration at year's end. The agreement, now law, is expected to add $900 billion to the deficit.
Has harmony come to the capital? Hardly. Obama likened the Republicans to hostage-takers.
But it's a new world now. He dealt.
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