Page 2 of 3   <       >

Once again, the electorate demanded a new start

The Washington Post's Lois Romano talks about what a Sestak loss mans for Pennsylvania.

But a chance at what?

This election was less a mandate for Republican ideas than a brake on Obama's.

Recent history suggests that for the GOP, the risk of overreaching is at least as great as that of not doing enough. Gingrich learned that the hard way, when Republicans defiantly shut down the government in a budget standoff with Bill Clinton - and opened the way for Clinton's political resurrection.

In the next two years, the test for both parties will be how well they handle the economic recovery.

Though the economy was at the top of voters' concerns, the Obama administration invested much of its energy - and political capital - in transforming the health-care system, making an unsuccessful attempt to pass climate change legislation and in grappling with such crises as the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Those diversions cost the Democrats dearly. An early read of exit polls suggests that voters who were most worried about the economy were also the ones who swung the hardest in favor of the GOP.

And while Democrats argued that the bailout of the financial system and their economic stimulus package helped prevent an even worse catastrophe, the election results showed they never convinced voters of that.

Governance - and particularly building consensus on tough and complicated challenges - can be painstaking and require a degree of trust between the parties that is not likely to be restored anytime soon.

The Democratic caucus that will return to Capitol Hill in January is likely to be more liberal than before, after some of its most moderate and conservative members were wiped out Tuesday.

And in the tea party, Republicans must grapple with a new political force for whom compromise is seen as a problem, not a solution.

Particularly when it comes to spending, the safest vote for a Republican incumbent will be "no" - or the risk will be a primary challenge similar to the ones that upended the GOP political order this year in places such as Alaska, Delaware, Kentucky and Utah.

Another challenge for both parties is that even as voters are demanding solutions, they are feeling a growing skepticism about the role and reach of government.

<       2        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company