Once again, the electorate demanded a new start

The Washington Post's Lois Romano talks about what a Sestak loss mans for Pennsylvania.
By Karen Tumulty
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 12:56 AM

There is no blunter way for voters to send a message. For the third election in a row, Americans kicked a political party out of power.

So you would think that, by now, politicians in Washington would have gotten the message: They must be doing something wrong.

From the moment they lift their right hands to take the oath of office, lawmakers are now on notice that their hard-won power may be short-lived.

"Let's start right now by recognizing this is not a time for celebration," House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), the presumed speaker-to-be, declared in his victory speech. "This is a time to roll up our sleeves and go to work."

In 2006, both chambers of Congress changed hands, from Republican to Democratic. In 2008, control of the White House followed, and this year, the GOP has won back the House.

Incumbency is no longer the protection it once was, particularly in districts where the balance between the two parties is close. Among the hardest-hit in Tuesday's election were first- and second-term House Democrats whose elections two and four years ago were heralded as the beginning of a new era for the party.

Such rapid reversals, particularly in the House, are relatively new in modern U.S. politics. It took four decades of Democratic control before voters turned over the House to Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and his band of Republican revolutionaries in 1994. A mere 12 years after that, Democrats won back control. And now, just four years later, Republicans have seized it again.

Voters, GOP pollster Bill McInturff said, "are going to keep throwing people out until they get it right."

Congress has never been a popular institution, but Americans have generally had a favorable view of their own individual representatives.

No longer. The past three elections have created the kind of successive upheavals in Congress that haven't been seen in more than half a century.

And the jubilation that Republicans are feeling about Tuesday's election results, which also brought GOP gains in the Senate and in state races down the ballot, is tempered by the knowledge that voters don't hold them in particularly high regard, either.

As Florida senator-elect Marco Rubio, an early tea party favorite, put it in his victory speech, the election was not an "embrace of the Republican Party" but a "second chance."

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