- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 2, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) — The fate of the Democratic Congress was put before voters Tuesday in midterm elections that drew Americans to balloting stations starting before dawn, some clamoring for change, others digging in their heels against resurgent Republicans. Expectations took hold in both camps that the political order was in for a makeover in these anxious times.

In the middle-class Cleveland suburb of Parma Heights, Ohio, Fred Peck, 48, explained his vote for Republicans — and by extension against President Obama’s agenda — by pointing to a 20 percent increase in his health care premiums and the declining value of his retirement fund. “I see nothing changing for the better,” said Mr. Peck, who works in university campus maintenance.

In Miami’s liberal Coconut Grove neighborhood, teacher Steve Wise, 28, voted for independent Charlie Crist for the Senate and Democrats for other offices. Mostly, he welcomed the end of a national campaign so often toxic in its tone. “I just want this day to be over,” he said. “Because it’s been too much — political ads, newscasts, too much talking heads. I just want to move on and get this country back.”

In Pelham, N.Y., Raymond Garofano, 66, who works in packaging for Revlon, voted a straight Democratic ticket and allowed that Mr. Obama “is doing an adequate job. Nobody’s perfect.”

The president gave a series of radio interviews, geared in part to urban black audiences, encouraging traditional Democratic supporters not to sit on the sidelines. “Even though my name is not on the ballot, my agenda is going to be dependent — our agenda is going to be dependent — on whether folks turn out and vote today,” he told the “Radio Big Boy” show on KPWR in Los Angeles.

“Across the board, things have gotten better over the last two years,” he said. “We can only keep it up if I’ve got some friends and allies in Congress and in statehouses.” He planned a postelection news conference Wednesday afternoon.

Republicans buoyantly forecast that they would win the House and usher in a new era of shared governance, two years after Democrats sealed victory in the presidency, the House and the Senate and set about reshaping the agenda in a time of severe recession and war. Democrats did not seriously dispute expectations that they would lose the House this time, even while campaigning through the final hours to stem losses.

“This is going to be a big day,” House Republican Leader John Boehner, likely to become speaker if the GOP wins the House, said after voting at a church near his West Chester, Ohio, suburban home. He said that for those who think the government is spending too much and bailing out too many, “this is their opportunity to be heard.”

Democrats tend to be strong closers, with a vaunted operation by the party, Mr. Obama’s organizers and unions to get supporters to voting sites on Election Day. This time, they faced a ground game infused by the tea party, less polished than the other side but full of energy.

The midterm elections are a prime-time test for that loosely knit and largely leaderless coalition, a force unheard of just two years ago. Tea party supporters rattled the Republican establishment in the primaries, booting out several veteran lawmakers and installing more than 70 candidates, nearly three dozen of whom are in competitive races Tuesday.

If successful, that conservative movement could come to Washington as a firewall against expansive federal spending, immigration liberalization and more, as well as a further threat to the historic health care law that Republicans hope somehow to roll back.

Democrats have had to struggle against apathy by their supporters and many who motivated themselves to vote Tuesday sounded lukewarm about Mr. Obama even as they cast ballots for his party.

“I think he’s doing OK, I wouldn’t say great, I wouldn’t say horrible,” said Heather Walczuk, 26, a social worker in Manhattan. She moved from Virginia a few years ago and used to vote Republican but has changed. She reported that her mother recently joined the tea party. “I don’t think she fully, really, knows what exactly she’s involved in or everything that they stand for,” she said.

At a precinct in Windsor Heights, a western suburb of Des Moines, Iowa, several voters said it might be a good thing to have Democrats and Republicans sharing power, and Obama’s reach curbed.

“I voted mostly Republican,” said Jodi Alberts, 47, an insurance company worker. “I think some of his policies are a little bit too social. We need to rein him in.”

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