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Presidential historian Stephen Hess said Mr. Obama may be best off following the Clinton model.

“Find out where the country wants to be, and get there first. That’s what Clinton did,” Mr. Hess said.

But pollster John Zogby said Mr. Obama need not panic, although he should consider seeking counsel from prominent Republicans.

“The president has shown that he can appeal to moderates and independents. That is how he won. He should be able to refocus his agenda on bridges and bring in a new White House that can command respect from both sides,” Mr. Zogby said, suggesting he seek advice from former Rep. Lee Hamilton, Indiana Democrat, and former Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican.

The president did offer an appeal to find “common ground” with his Republican adversaries - the same offer repeatedly extended on the 2008 campaign trail, which didn’t materialize during legislative efforts dominated by Democrats on Capitol Hill.

During last spring and summer, massive grass-roots protests cropped up, with “tea party” activists crying out against the president’s health care reform bill and deficit spending. After two November election losses in Virginia and New Jersey, Massachusetts last week became the third state in three months where independents rejected a Democrat and voted Republican. The three states all voted for Mr. Obama in 2008.

An exit poll by Rasmussen Reports found that 73 percent of “unenrolled,” or independent, voters in solidly Democratic Massachusetts cast their ballots for populist candidate Scott Brown, a state senator who campaigned in a pickup truck to win what he called “the people’s seat.” It had been held by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy since 1962.

The nationwide shift from party affiliation to independent has been under way for years. Fifty years ago, 47 percent of voters identified with the Democrats and 28 percent with the Republicans, while just 23 percent were independents. A Wall Street Journal poll released Wednesday showed the numbers are almost reversed, with 40 percent of voters describing themselves as independent, 31 percent as Democrats and 24 percent as Republicans.

The ad hoc group moves freely between parties - the same independents that put Mr. Obama into office re-elected his predecessor, Mr. Bush, to a second term.

“They’re conflicted centrists,” said Andrew Kohut of the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. “They are closer to the Democrats on social issues, but they’re closer to the Republicans in being skeptical about big government.”

With the midterm congressional elections just nine months away, Mr. Obama’s coattails will be severely tested, and already, Democrats are fearful - two prominent senators, Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota, abandoned re-election campaigns in the unfriendly political climate.

Mr. Obama has found himself pushed by liberals in Congress, who have controlled his agenda on Capitol Hill. But while conservatives have been angered by the president, liberals feel they have been let down by the scant accomplishments of his first year, so much so that liberal New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd on Wednesday called the president a “grave disappointment.”

Mr. Avlon, whose new book, “Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America” came out this week, also said Mr. Obama may do well to follow Mr. Reagan’s example and stay the course.

“He’s definitely going to lose independent voters going into the fall, but he has more than enough time to pull himself out of this, to re-establish that connection with independent voters,” he said. Still, he added: “Obama has a chance, but it’s later than they might think.”