Election leaves Obama weakened

 

HOUSE OF REP: Democrats 185 Republicans 239

SENATE: Democrats 52 Republicans 46

President Barack Obama said he took responsibility for sluggish economic growth and acknowledged that he had to do a "better job" after voters punished Democrats and handed control of the House of Representatives to Republicans.

"I think I have to take direct responsibility that we have not made as much progress as we need to make," Mr Obama told a news conference at the White House.

Democrats managed to retain control of the Senate even as Republicans strengthened their ranks, which could herald an extended legislative stalemate when the new Congress begins work in January.

However Mr Obama said Democrats and Republicans needed to find common ground so they could solve problems confronting the country.

"Clearly too many Americans haven't felt that progress yet and they told us that yesterday," he said. "I am very eager to sit down with members of both parties and figure out where we can move forward."

The president said he did not believe the result was a repudiation of his sweeping healthcare reforms but signaled he was willing to work with Republicans on "tweaks."

"If the Republicans have ideas for how to improve our healthcare system, if they want to suggest modifications that would deliver faster, more effective reform ... I am happy to consider some of those ideas," he said.

He said he intends meeting with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders within the next few weeks to see how to move forward on extending tax cuts enacted under his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush.

"How that negotiation works itself out I think it's too early to say. This is going to be one of my top priorities," he added.

Republicans picked up at least 60 House seats, far more than the 39 they needed for a majority that would elevate John Boehner to House speaker and put Republicans in charge of House committees. Many races remained too close to call. It is the biggest shift in power since Democrats lost 75 House seats in 1948.

During the election campaign, Republicans had portrayed Mr Obama and his fellow Democrats as big spenders who recklessly ran up massive deficits and extended the reach of an intrusive government. The charge seemed to resonate with voters who have been battered by the deepest recession since the 1930s.

"It's pretty clear the American people want us do something about cutting spending here in Washington and helping to create an environment where we'll get jobs back," Mr Boehner told reporters at the Capitol.

Mr Obama made a late-night call to congratulate Mr Boehner and discuss ways they could work together to create jobs and improve the economy, a Boehner aide said.

Second-ranked Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin, said no significant legislation would pass without input from Republicans. "We need to move beyond filibusters and enter a real conversation about passing legislation that this country needs," he told Reuters.

From tax cuts to housing, Mr Obama's hand is weakened. He will have to fend off attempts to repeal his healthcare and Wall Street reforms and will face an aggressive pushback against administration policies. Major new initiatives on climate change and immigration are probably off the table.

While Republican candidates have pushed an agenda of aggressive spending cuts and a repeal of Mr Obama's reforms, they will have trouble overcoming the president's veto pen. A clash looms over the budget deficit, which hit nearly 9 per cent of gross domestic product last year.

Moreover, Republicans eyeing a presidential challenge to Mr Obama in 2012 should not read too much into the election results, said Ipsos pollster Cliff Young. "They say very little - if nothing - about Obama's electoral prospects," he said.

Conservative grass roots activists associated with the Tea Party movement shook up the Republican Party earlier this year when they toppled some incumbents deemed not conservative enough and replaced them with less experienced, more ideological candidates.

Tea Party favourites won in Florida, Utah and Kentucky, ensuring an influx of conservative views in the staid chamber. But the movement may have prevented Republicans from winning the Senate, as voters rejected Tea Party-backed candidates in Nevada, Delaware and West Virginia.

Exit polls found voters deeply worried about the economy, with eight in 10 saying it was a chief concern. Nearly three-quarters believed government did not function properly, and four in 10 said they supported the Tea Party.

The Republican rout extended from coast to coast and knocked at least 30 Democratic incumbents out of the House. In the Senate, Republicans gained six seats, including seats in Indiana, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Arkansas as well as Obama's former seat in Illinois. Senate races in Colorado and Washington were too close to call.

The three-way race for the Republican-held Alaska Senate seat also was too close to call, with incumbent Lisa Murkowski running as an independent write-in candidate against Tea Party favourite Joe Miller and Democratic challenger Scott McAdams.

Republicans picked up at least 10 governorships from Democrats, including the battleground state of Ohio, and seized control of at least 17 state legislatures from Democrats.

The victories give them control over the once-a-decade process of redrawing congressional districts that begins next year and could help the party extend its electoral advantage.

However, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid won the country's most high-profile Senate race after a brutal battle with Tea Party favourite Sharron Angle in Nevada. He said he was determined to renew the struggle to create jobs and bolster the economy.

"The bell that just rang isn't the end of the fight, it's the start of the next round," he told jubilant supporters in Nevada.

Reuters