The two "wave" elections that swept Democrats to congressional majorities in 2006 and 2008 were followed Tuesday by a tsunami that gave Republicans control of the House of Representatives and a stronger voice in the Senate.
Among the 60 Democratic victims were 22 freshmen, 22 first elected in 2002, 28 conservative blue dogs and some moderates with years of experience. While Democrats retained control of the Senate, Republicans gained 10 governorships, giving them added leverage in next year's redistricting, which will influence future congressional elections.
The outcomes were a savory comeback for the GOP, seemingly rudderless after Democrats won the White House in 2008, and a brutal rebuke to President Obama and his party.
The Republican resurgence was fueled by persistent economic worries, epitomized by nearly 10 percent joblessness, and opposition to the Democrats' agenda of health-care reform and spending, which galvanized the Tea Party movement, whose candidates won 39 seats in the House.
That Obama managed to stabilize an economy in free fall and steered significant legislation through Congress counted for little with an electorate worried about keeping their jobs and homes. The administration thought its $787 billion economic stimulus package was sufficient, but as the recovery has sputtered the president has been forced to argue that things could have been worse, hardly a persuasive case in the face of Republicans' concerted opposition and constant complaints about its futility, which Obama has been slow to counter.
The election dashes any notion of his being able to transform Washington politics.
With Republicans controlling the House, he will be forced to play a small-bore game and seek bipartisan agreement. Congressional Republicans, though, now have a stake in governance -- as well as the challenge of placating their Tea Party allies -- and will also be held accountable by voters in 2012.