This week's election results mean no letup for President Obama in the permanent campaign that has become the standard of his administration.
With the 2010 midterm elections looming and Republicans looking to build on statewide wins in Virginia and New Jersey, Democrats have a short window to cobble together a solid record to campaign on while they hope for an economic turnaround.
“If there is no job growth and more rampant foreclosures in the next year, it's going to be a problem for incumbents regardless of party,” said Keir Murray, a Democratic strategist. “When the public feels anxious, they tend to show up at the polls in a firing mood.”
Since coming to office, the Obama administration has relentlessly focused on short-term political gain, while keeping the president highly visible. It's a campaign-style strategy that aims to win the daily news cycle and maintain a sense of momentum.
The president also has made repeated trips to key swing states to drum up support for his agenda, draping campaign-style appearances in the official garb of White House business.
A problem for the administration brought into clear relief from this week's election is a sharp drop-off in the enthusiasm and engagement among Democratic voters that helped Obama win the White House.
To that end, the president in recent campaign stops for Democrats has been recycling rallying lines from his 2008 campaign — notably a “Fired up, ready to go” call and response that was a campaign trademark last year.
Obama also has become more sharply partisan, calling out former President George W. Bush and openly mocking his critics in Congress. It's a popular gambit with Democratic voters, particularly progressives who increasingly express frustration at Obama's centrist approach to issues like gay rights.
The administration also raised a curtain on the type of political tactics they plan to use heading into 2010, including a sustained attack on Fox News aimed at rallying the Democratic Party base against a common enemy.
But without significant improvement in the economy and a solid record of legislative achievements, political tactics aren't likely to do much for Democrats, said Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida.
The health care reform effort, once envisioned by the administration as a potent asset for 2010, has rapidly lost political value with polls showing Americans sharply divided on its virtues.
“The common theme of this election seems to have been an impatience about how Washington is tackling the biggest problems that face everyday people,” MacManus said. “The Democrats have to campaign on tangible evidence of job creation, because that is all people want to hear about.”
Another worrisome issue for Obama brought into focus by exit polling on Tuesday night was a sharp migration of independent voters away from Democratic candidates.
Obama owes his election in part to the support of independents, who liked his plans for the economy but later soured on massive spending that so far has not delivered on the administration's promises of job creation.