Dilemma for Obama after election trouncing

Dilemma for Obama after election trouncing

President Barack Obama was left pondering a difficult path forward after Republicans rode a wave of public disgust with the White House to an electoral victory that exceeded all expectations.

So thorough was the Republican triumph at the mid-term elections on Tuesday, so forceful the repudiation of the President's leadership, that Mr Obama faces a real dilemma of having to shift his agenda to the right or be left with little to show for his final two years in office.

With the results in three Democrat-held seats still unknown, the Republicans can already boast a net gain of seven seats in the Senate - the first time the party has gained the Senate majority in eight years. The Republicans went into the election needing just six seats to wrest control of the upper chamber of Congress.

Supposedly close races in Iowa, Colorado, Kentucky and North Carolina all broke decisively in favour of the Republicans; no run-off was needed in the three-cornered fight in Georgia, and the supposedly vulnerable Republican incumbent in Kansas ultimately prevailed.

An early sign of the national mood came when Democrat Mark Warner trailed Republican Ed Gillespie in a Virginia Senate race he was supposed to win easily. Mr Warner looks to have edged forward in the end but the race will likely be subjected to a re-count.

The measure of the Democrats' shellacking went beyond the Senate races. The Republicans gained a further 13 seats in the House of Representatives and won numerous gubernatorial races in Democratic states. Even Mr Obama's home state of Illinois will now have a Republican governor.

For observers around the world, the Republican wave that swept through Congress could mean new hope for progress on free trade deals, but it will also raise fears that the partisanship that has bedevilled Washington will go into overdrive.

Leaders of both parties were quick to voice conciliatory notes after Tuesday's results, as both sides pledged to work together in ways that have eluded them for most of the Obama tenure.

"I don't expect the President to wake up tomorrow and view the world any differently than he did when he woke up this morning. He knows I won't either," said the probable new Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. "But I do think we have an obligation to work together on issues where we can agree. Just because we have a two-party system doesn't mean we have to be in perpetual conflict."

Similarly, the top-ranking Democrat in the Senate Harry Reid said he looked forward to working with the Republicans: "The message from the voters is clear. They want us to work together."

Still, there was no shortage of the sort of rhetoric that could quickly doom any compromise. Senator Ted Cruz, a potential presidential candidate, was already talking about dismantling the President's hard-won health-care reform piece by piece.

Senator Rand Paul, also likely to aim for the White House in 2016, introduced Mr McConnell at the victory party by saying that the new leader would send Mr Obama "Bill after Bill, until he wearies of it".

Mr Obama is due to speak about his next step in an address to the nation on Wednesday afternoon (early Thursday morning in Singapore).

Pundits said the results were more a rejection of the Washington stalemate than a clear mandate for the Republicans. Exit polls indicate equal levels of dissatisfaction with the White House and with the Republican party.

Ms Bess Mosley, 72, a Republican who voted in New Hampshire, said she did not like either candidate, and was disgusted by the record US$4 billion (S$5.2 billion) poured into the campaigns.

jeremyau@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on November 6, 2014.
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