By Victoria Craw
Six years ago he was a man who could do no wrong.
Barack Obama swooped to power in a blaze of glory based on soaring approval ratings, a huge social media campaign and celebrity endorsements that promised great things from America’s first African American President.
Almost six years to the day since that night, he stands isolated, a lame-duck President dominated by rivals in both chambers of Congress. His approval ratings are so bad even his own candidates didn’t want him turning up in their states.
So where did it all go wrong? Here’s what you need to know about the US midterms.
Bloodbath at the midterms
Overnight, Obama and the Democrats suffered a drubbing described as a “good ole fashioned thumping” in the midterm elections — named because they fall in between the presidential vote — in which the members of the House of Representatives and some of the Senate were up for election.
The results mean Republicans hold 52 seats to the Democrats 45 in the Senate with 97 per cent of the votes counted. Meanwhile in the House of Representatives, Republicans hold 242 seats to the Democrats 174 with 96 per cent of the votes determined.
The beating was bigger than expected. Republicans needed six Senate seats to take control but eventually won seven including: Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia. Results in Alaska, Virginia and Louisiana are still to come.
They also made strong gains in the key states of Florida and Ohio which are expected to become important in the 2016 Presidential elections.
United States Studies Centre visiting fellow Adam Lockyer said it was a combination of factors that delivered such a walloping. Part of it was the simple maths that means some of the Senators — elected on a wave of Democratic fervour in 2008 for a six-year term — suffered a correction, while the traditionally low turnout at midterms means that the young, black and Latino Democrat base are traditionally less inclined to vote.
However there was also a “strong sense of disillusionment with Obama as Americans recognise that ‘yes, the economy is getting better,’ but they’re not necessarily feeling it,” he said.
“They still feel as though they’re doing it hard. The recovery after GFC just hasn’t been fast enough for them. When you combine those three factors the President and the Democrats were expecting to get knocked around. They had braced themselves for six seats but it was worse than that.”
It’s also a clear rebuke to Obama’s botched rollout of his healthcare reform and the severe gridlock which has dominated Congress leading to an embarrassing shutdown last October.
Republican campaigns focused on Obama’s weak leadership, while the economic issue also played to their advantage. However BBC analysis said it’s important to note that American’s are not just sick of Obama, it’s politicians in general who are driving them crazy.
What does it mean?
The results mean Republicans extended their majority in the House of Representatives and took control of the Senate, which has a new leader in Republican Mitch McConnell.
Mr McConnell will take the reigns in January and become responsible for setting the Senate’s agenda including what bills are brought to the floor. Republicans also take charge of committees giving them the ability to shape the overall political discourse and has the power to block key appointments like judges and ambassadors made by the President.
He’s already said he hopes to quickly find some common ground and get things done and promised there will be no government shutdowns or fears of default, but warned he thinks Obamacare is a “big mistake”.
Although the Democrats lost their majority in the House of Representatives in 2010, this is the first time Obama has faced Republican control in both chambers of Congress.
It’s not an uncommon situation for a second term President but it means he’s now officially a ‘lame duck’ in that he controls the White House but not the political machinery of government which can push bills through and get funding approved.
Obama does still have the power to sign ‘executive orders’ on certain issues and veto legislation he particularly doesn’t like. He’s already signalled he would veto any attempt to rollback his Obamacare program.
Obama has congratulated Republicans on their win, saying obviously they had a “good night”.
“I’m eager to work with the new Congress to make the next two years as productive as possible,” he said. However he also warned there may still be some legislation that he would feel obliged to veto.
“That’s natural. That’s how our democracy works,” he said. “But we can surely find ways to work together on issues where there’s broad agreement among the American people.”
He used his first speech after the defeat to call for three things; $6 billion in funding to fight Ebola, a strategy to beat the Islamic State and to get a new budget approved to avoid a shutdown.
He has also urged his Republican opponents to work with him on immigration reform but said he would take executive action if necessary.
“Before the end of the year, we’re going to take whatever lawful actions we can take that I believe will improve the functioning of our immigration system.”
But it’s a rough life for a lame duck President. Professor Lockyer said they suffer a loss of political capital and even staff who “start looking for the next President”.
“During the lame duck period the President tends to focus much more on foreign policy because they have far more latitude to act independently.”
“When Bill Clinton [was in his lame duck period] he ran across to the Middle East and started to double down on Israeli Palestinian peace. You could probably expect he might spend a lot more time on air force One and concentrating far more on foreign policy.”
This article was originally published at News.com.au