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After GOP landslide of Election 2010, what next for Obama?

Election 2010 voters sent a strong message of discontent to President Obama on the economy. They also handed him a big political challenge: work toward greater bipartisanship.

By Staff writer / November 3, 2010

Rep. John Boehner (R) of Ohio celebrates the GOP's victory that changes the balance of power in Congress and will likely elevate him to speaker of the House, during an election night gathering in Washington, on Nov. 2.

Cliff Owen/AP

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Washington

The Republican Party has swept the Democrats out of power in the House and gained seats in the Senate, sending a strong message of voter discontent to President Obama on the economy.

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Republicans scored at least a 60-seat gain in the House, the biggest partisan shift since the Democrats gained 75 House seats in 1948. In the Senate, the Republicans fell short of the 10 they needed to take control, and failed to capture their most-hoped-for quarry: the seat of Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada, who defeated tea partyer Sharron Angle by five percentage points. It is the first time in 80 years that the House has changed hands without the Senate following.

The historic wave that makes Rep. John Boehner (R) of Ohio the expected next speaker of the House also hands Mr. Obama the biggest challenge of his political career. Suddenly, the president has no choice but to work toward his unfulfilled 2008 campaign promise of greater bipartisanship. The alternative is gridlock and the appearance of ineffectiveness. But if Obama concedes too much to the Republicans, he risks losing the support of his Democratic base when he runs for reelection in 2012, as expected.

All eyes will be on Obama Wednesday at 1 p.m. EST, when he holds a press conference in the East Room of the White House. Tuesday night, Obama phoned both Congressman Boehner and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell to say he was looking forward to working with them and the Republicans “to find common ground, move the country forward, and get things done for the American people,” according to the White House.

Obama finds himself in straits similar to those of President Clinton in 1994, the last time the Democrats lost their congressional majority. Mr. Clinton adapted, becoming a skilled “triangulator” as he tacked to the political center, and won reelection easily two years later. More important, the economy had improved by 1996. For Obama, a brighter economic picture remains the most significant ingredient needed for reelection, but if he can master the new reality of divided government, Americans will feel more comfortable about handing him four more years.

The key for both parties is that they learn the right lessons from the landslide of 2010. For congressional Democrats, the message is obvious: What you’re doing isn’t working, you’re out. For Republicans, the danger of misreading is greater. Pre-election polls consistently showed that voters were equally unhappy with both parties, and were voting more against the party in power, the Democrats, than for the opposition Republicans.

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