For Democrats, Election Day was judgment day, with voters acting as jurors — standing up and finding a rash of candidates guilty for their association with President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. "People had to have somebody to blame," Chuck Drake, a voter in Clintonville, Ohio, said Wednesday morning in a snap assessment of midterm elections in which Republicans took back control of the U.S. House, picked up at least six seats in the Senate and assumed control of many state governments.
As the president himself was acknowledging Wednesday that his party took a "shellacking," voters said the reason was simple: It was all about "people being generally unhappy with the direction of Obama's administration," Drake said.
The guilt-by-association theme surfaced repeatedly in exit polls and interviews with voters.
Paul Gentry of Danville, Va., said he voted for Republican Robert Hurt to unseat Democratic Rep. Tom Perriello because "I thought Perriello was too close to the Obama administration, and I'm not too happy with a lot of the things they've done."
Exit polling data indicated that nearly four in 10 voters said they backed Republican House candidates as a way to thumb their nose at Obama, but David Hyde, also of Danville, identified two other villains: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Pelosi of California.
Hyde said he backed Perriello because Hurt "has just went along with whatever Reid and Pelosi wanted."
For many voters, Pelosi was just as easy a target as Obama because "Congress is always less popular than any other branch of government," said Michael Wolf , a political scientist at Indiana University-Purdue University in Fort Wayne. "When you're leading that, you're going to be the one that catches the blame."
Republican leaders seized on Pelosi's identification with unpopular programs backed by Obama, making her the centerpiece of a pre-election "Fire Pelosi Tour" through 48 states led by Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee.
The message appeared to have resonated. At a victory rally Tuesday night in Columbia, Mo., Republican Rep. Blaine Leutkemeyer led supporters in a call-and-response chant:
"Nancy Pelosi ..."
"... You're fired!"
"Nancy Pelosi ..."
"... You're fired!"
"The American people stood up and said we want our country back," said Leutkemeyer, who was returned to Congress for a second term.
Like Leutkemeyer, other Republican candidates ran just as much against Pelosi as they did their own opponents.
At a rally Tuesday night celebrating his ouster of veteran Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., Republican Steven Palazzo promised supporters: "The first thing I'm going to do is fire Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House!" Specifically, voters said they held Obama and Pelosi responsible for the economy and for the health care overhaul.
Danny Richardson, who voted in Northern Virginia, said the Democrats had had enough time to get the economy moving.
"They've got to get the people working," Richardson said. "It's been too long, and the working people need to get back to work."
"The health thing for the elderly is a real turning point,” Tim Shulze said over breakfast at a diner in Columbus, Ohio.
"That health care bill got the elderly out — they didn't care for it — and I think that was the big thing on Obama," Shulze said.
'You don't want your child to see this'
Voters had one more message for candidates: Stop the mudslinging.
"We don't feel like there needs to be any civil discourse anymore," said Devon DeGarmo, who voted in Anchorage, Alaska, adding that the dominant strategy appeared to be "yell at each other and call names, and the guy who yells the loudest wins.” Ralph Mills, 74, of Morgantown, W.Va., said the 2010 campaign was the ugliest of the many he could remember, filled with "too much rhetoric, too much lying, too much bad advertising."
"I'm tired of hearing it," said Keisha Maines, who voted in Albany, N.Y. "I'm tired of listening to it on TV. I'm tired of everything."
The ads were so nasty this cycle, said Melanie Leach of Lexington, Ky., that "you want to turn it off because you don't want your child to see this."
David Kroot summed up the philosophy of just about everyone after Tuesday's voting:
"I am ecstatic it’s done," he said. "It's been exhausting seeing people argue back and forth on both sides of the parties."