Midterm Elections: How the Dems Lost the House

President Obama's Democratic party lost control of the House of Representatives in November 2010.
President Obama's Democratic party lost control of the House of Representatives in November 2010.
To put the political power shift in perspective, experts tell us House Democrats lost more than half of the land mass they once held as district after district went from blue to red. CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric reports on a remarkable turnaround in two short years.

As Republicans celebrate their return to power, Democrats are coming to grips with what went wrong.

"I would not recommend future presidents that they take a shellacking like I did last night," President Obama said Wednesday at a news conference.

Hope and change put Democrats in the White House in 2008. The recession and a series of miscalculations cost them control of Congress.

Elections Have Consequences

"The president's economic team was led by Larry Summers," says CBS New chief business correspondent Anthony Mason. "While I think they knew things would get bad, I don't think they were aware they were going to be as bad as they turned out to be."

"In fact, they predicted that the highest unemployment would go - would be 8 percent," says CBS News chief White House correspondent Chip Reid.

On "Face the Nation" Jan. 19, 2009, CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer asked, "Do you think we'll see unemployment actually get to 10 percent?"

"I don't think so, Bob," Summers replied.

"What the president's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel believed was that the stimulus package would work and the economy would start to turn around in the beginning of 2010," says CBS News Political Analyst John Dickerson.

The $800 billion package consisted of public works projects, loans and tax breaks. But Republicans wanted the tax cuts to go even further.

Complete CBS News Election Results

On Jan. 23, 2009, "the House Republican leadership met with President Obama at the White House," say CBS News Capitol Hill producer Jill Jackson. "And the president told the Republicans elections have consequences, and I won."

Days later, as the president was leaving the Oval Office to try and seal the deal with Republicans, the GOP sent word - they would not vote with the Democrats on the stimulus plan or anything else.

"The president found out about that strategy of the Republicans when he was on the way to Capitol Hill to meet with the Republicans," Reid said. "That was the day to me that bipartisanship died."

Boiling Over

"The American public saw a financial disaster and they looked at Washington for help," Reid says. "And all they saw was the Washington throw money at the problem and the banks get rich again."

$700 billion was offered to banks and auto companies as the national debt increased by almost three trillion dollars. A growing number of Americans became convinced federal spending was out of control - and helping big institutions instead of the little guy.

"Early on the administration thought the Tea Party was basically the hard core, right wing coming alive," Reid explains. "When independent voters started showing that kind of anger, that's when they realed started to realize we have a problem here."

The pendulum was swinging away from Democrats. A remarkable 40 percent of voters now identify themselves as Tea Party supporters. And 8 out of 10 of them voted Republican.


"If we are able to stop Obama on this," said Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. "It will be his Waterloo."

"The early thinking in the administration was success breeds success," Dickerson says. "So after the stimulus package passed, the White House thought we better get quickly on to health care."

"Democrats spent a year debating and working on health care when Americans were saying what we care about is jobs," reports CBS News congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes.

Less than half of Americans understood how the 1,000 page proposal might impact their lives.

Dog Days

"What happened in August was that the White House lost control of the message," says CBS News medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook. "People started talking at the tops of their lungs and talking about death panels."

"Many members were shell-shocked - many members did not want to move forward," Jackson says. "Many of these Democrats represented districts that McCain won in 2008 - they knew they were vulnerable. They knew their heads were on the chopping block and Speaker Pelosi convinced them to vote for it anyway."

But the first blow would come in a Democratic stronghold - snatching away the Democrats' veto-proof majority and any notion of the president's electoral invincibility.

The election of Scott Brown, a Republican, in Ted Kennedy's old seat in Massachusetts, should have been a huge wake-up call to Democrats that the Tea Party movement and the energy behind it, could affix to any candidate, even in the bluest part of the country," Dickerson says.

The debate dragged on. Unemployment peaked just above 10 percent.

This past February, I asked the president, "In retrospect, do you wish you had waited on health care until the economy grew stronger?"

"No," he replied. "Because keep in mind, jobs were my number one priority last year."

In the year it took for Democrats to get health care reform passed, the U.S. economy lost more than 2 million jobs. Now, nearly half of voters want health care reform repealed.

New Reality

At a town meeting in September, Obama heard from a woman named Velma Hart.

"I'm exhausted of defending you -- defending your administration," she said. "And Mr. President, I need you to answer this honestly: is this my new reality?"

Hart's frustration was shared by millions of voters. According to a CBS News exit poll, 84 percent say their financial situation is worse or no better. Sixty-two percent believe the country is on the wrong track.

"There's no point in government unless it improves the lives of its citizens," Schieffer says. "And I think in many cases the Democrats had not been able to show how they had done that."

More Campaign 2010 Coverage:
Election 2010: Winners and Losers
The New House Leaders
The New Senators on the Block
What's Next for Obama and Congress?
Boehner Calls for "Smaller, Less Costly" Gov't