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Fear, frustration reign at the polls

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The Post's Chris Cillizza breaks down the 2010 midterm election results and what it means for the Democrats and the Republicans moving forward.

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By Sandhya Somashekhar and Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 12:14 AM

They came with their worries about the country, their dismay about an ugly campaign and their trepidation about their choices.

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They gave their backing to the Republicans, but with qualifications, suggesting that their votes were more of a rebuke to the current party in power than a mandate for the new one.

And if voters sent a message by handing the House to Republicans, they were just as willing to send another by withholding the Senate: Their verdict was not so much a call to revolution as a plea for balance and an end to the gridlock that seems to have seized Washington.

The split decision reflected an America that remains deeply ambivalent in their view of how the country should be governed. Exit poll data showed that the slice of the electorate that showed up at the polls was older and more conservative than the turnout for the 2008 election. And while most of those voters were united in their concern about the economy and the direction of the country, the things that troubled them and their hopes for the future differed tremendously.

In the working-class suburb of Bristol, Pa., an unemployed 60-year-old voted for a tea party candidate in the hopes that national leaders will finally be forced to listen to people like her.

At an elementary school just west of the Las Vegas Strip, a homemaker held her nose and cast her ballot for the Democratic incumbent, even though she's been hit hard by the economic downturn.

And on the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison, Alex Elman, a student who voted eagerly for President Obama, stopped by the library between classes to cast a straight Republican ballot.

"Obama connected," Elman recalled. "He was going to unite people from different classes. He said that it wasn't red states or blue states but the United States."

Instead, he said, Obama had been as partisan as the rest of them; Democratic leaders had protected neither his finances nor the country's future.

"It seems," he said, his voice filling with confusion and wonder, "it seems like we're not number one anymore."

'A dangerous person'

It was a different fear that gripped the wealthy, liberal voters of the Highlands district of Louisville on Tuesday. Wearing suits, barn jackets and fleece - many clutching to-go coffee cups - they filed into a historic Baptist church to vote against tea party favorite Rand Paul, a libertarian and son of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.).

"I think Rand Paul is a dangerous person," said Carolyn Brooks, 65, a historic-preservation consultant. She cited the Republican's previous statements about replacing income tax with a national sales tax, and undoing parts of the health-care overhaul. "I can't fathom [his win]. . . . This is like a Halloween joke."


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