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An Election 2010 GOP takeover: How bad for Obama?

As Election 2010 nears, Republicans are confident of dominating the House as Democrats shape strategies for either outcome. How will Obama deal with Republican gains?

By Staff writer / September 14, 2010

John Boehner, now House minority leader, stands to be speaker if Republicans win big on Nov. 2. Mr. Boehner joined President Obama at a White House fiscal summit.

Charles Dharapak/AP/File

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Washington

No president wants to lose any levers of power. And if the Democrats lose control of the House in November – an outcome that is looking increasingly likely – it will be seen as an embarrassing rejection of President Obama and his record after two years in office.

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But if the choice is between keeping a Democratic House by a slim majority and losing the House to the Republicans, Mr. Obama may well be better off under the latter scenario. Either way, analysts say, not much of significance gets done, but if the Republicans control at least one house of Congress, Obama can point to them for blame. And it could boost his reelection chances in 2012.

IN PICTURES: Inside President Obama's White House

Democrats are reluctant to say this on the record. And few Republicans are openly arguing the reverse – that they're better off in the minority, lobbing criticisms from the sidelines and making life difficult for Obama without the responsibility of governing.

"This is a little ticklish," says Democratic strategist Peter Fenn. "It's hard to argue, 'You're a Democrat, you should go out there and argue that you want to lose.' "

For the Democrats, it's more a case of making the best of a bad situation, lemonade out of lemons, not wishing for defeat. The Nov. 2 midterm elections are less than two months away. If the Greek chorus of political prognosticators has it right, the Democrats will lose many, if not most, of the 55 House seats they netted in 2006 and 2008 – plus others held for many years by Democrats in conservative districts. The 39-seat net gain Republicans need for House control looks easier by the day. (More than 80 or 90 seats are in play, most of them currently held by Democrats, the handicappers say.)

In the Senate, which Democrats currently control with a 59 to 41 majority, the 10-seat net gain Republicans need to take over seemed a bridge too far until recently. Now polls suggest that, too, is possible, though still not likely.

Neither party is a sure winner

If it's any consolation to Democrats, voters are just as unenthusiastic about the Republican Party as they are about the Democratic Party – and in some polls even more so – even though many want a change in congressional control as a check on Obama.

"A lot of this" – the political landscape – "has to do ... with people saying no to the Democrats, not saying yes to the Republicans," South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) said Sept. 5 on "Meet the Press."

If Obama has no choice but to spend the next two years presiding over a divided government, it could force him to do what he said he would do during the 2008 campaign – work in a more bipartisan fashion, though with Republicans setting the agenda in the chamber(s) they control. The Clinton presidency is an obvious model. President Clinton had a rough first two years in office, and the Democrats lost control of both houses of Congress in the 1994 midterms, forcing him to the center. He won reelection easily in 1996.

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