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Obama foes seek full control of US Congress in 2012

Republicans are taking aim at full control of the divided US Congress in the November 2012 elections, fueled by voter anger at the sour economy that could also cost President Barack Obama his job.

world Updated: Nov 02, 2011 08:49 IST

Republicans are taking aim at full control of the divided US Congress in the November 2012 elections, fueled by voter anger at the sour economy that could also cost President Barack Obama his job.

"It doesn't look good for Democrats," according to Matt Dickinson, a professor of political science at elite Middlebury College in Vermont.

All 435 seats in the Republican-led House of Representatives are up for grabs, while 33 spots in the Democratic-held Senate will be in play, with opinion poll after opinion poll showing Americans loathe lawmakers in Washington.

A recent CBS television/New York Times survey put Congress's approval rating at an abysmal nine percent, well below Obama's own poor showing of 46 percent, both weighed down by partisan bickering and little relief from the grim economy.

Democrats and their independent allies are defending 23 seats in the Senate, where they hold a thin 53-47 majority, while just 10 Republican slots are in play, with just a handful sufficient for the chamber to change hands.

Republicans, who have not held the Senate since 2006, would have to pick up four seats -- or just three if Obama loses, because under the US Constitution the vice president breaks any 50-50 tie.

Political handicappers point to Democrats retiring in states like North Dakota, Virginia, and Wisconsin, and to moderate Democrats in trouble in Montana, Missouri, and Nebraska.

Republicans, on the other hand, face a fight to hold on to seats from Massachusetts -- where Senator Scott Brown faces liberal champion Elizabeth Warren for the seat once held by Ted Kennedy -- and Nevada.

"It's early, things are fluid, and there's always uncertainty involved with forecasting elections. But I think the Republicans have a realistic shot at picking up a net of four seats, enough to get a majority," said Dickinson.

"Republicans have got a pretty decent shot at taking the Senate -- a bit better than 50-50," according to Stuart Rothenberg, publisher of the highly regarded, non-partisan political handicapping Rothenberg Report.

Rothenberg noted that some Democrats up for reelection next year won their seats six years ago, "when they could run against George W. Bush, against the war in Iraq, and as the party of change. They can't do that today."

"The House, in contrast, looks to stay Republican," according to Dickinson, who said it was "unlikely that the Democrats will have enough of a national tailwind to pick up the 25 or so seats they need to regain a majority."

"That's hard, unless we have a large Democratic national wave -- and with the economy where it is, and the president's popularity where it is, that's hard," said Rothenberg, who predicts Democrats will make some gains but fall short.

National polls, which give a sense of the national mood but fall short of predicting the outcome of district-by-district, state-by-state contests, show US voters split evenly between the two major parties.

Dickinson said the unpopular Obama would be "a hindrance" for Democrats but that divided government in Washington could spare him from shouldering the bulk of the blame for the ugly economy, still struggling to recover from the global meltdown of 2007-2008.

"So he's not a millstone around Democrats' necks, but they won't be asking him to come by the district too often either. He may be best utilized as a fundraiser, but not as a visible presence in many races," said Dickinson.

The stakes are high for the president: Republican gains would endanger or outright stall his second-term agenda if he wins reelection, and would spark "a wholesale restructuring of the national agenda" if he loses.

Republicans have vowed to repeal his landmark health care overhaul, unmake much of his tougher new rules on Wall Street, and pursue deep cuts to social safety net programs dear to Democrats.

But they are all-but-certain to fall short of the 60-seat majority needed to overrun parliamentary delay tactics in the Senate.

First Published: Nov 02, 2011 08:48 IST