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Meltdown for Obama as he goes from hero to zero in just a year

US President Barack Obama and his Democratic Party raced to re-evaluate their healthcare plans and electoral strategy after their stunning Massachusetts Senate defeat.

The embarrassing defeat to Republican Scott Brown in a Democratic stronghold held by Ted Kennedy for nearly 50 years was a bitter end to the president's first year in office and triggered furious party soul-searching.

Frustrated Democrats urged the White House to focus on jobs and the economy -- not the healthcare overhaul now at risk -- and pressed Mr Obama to make their case more forcefully against Republicans before potentially disastrous Congressional elections in the autumn.

"We need a jobs bill. We need short-term, focused strategies to create jobs, real fast," said Senator Bob Casey.

"If the dominant message isn't about jobs and spending, we'll be making a difficult challenge exponentially more difficult."

Hammering

Mr Obama himself owned up to a failure to communicate.

In a year of hopping from crisis to crisis, he said on TV: "We lost some of that sense of speaking directly to the American people about what their core values are and why we have to make sure those institutions are matching up with those values."

Mr Obama has started laying out a sharper contrast with Republicans by hammering them for opposing his proposed bank bail-out tax.

He has sought to paint Democrats on the side of taxpayers and Republicans on the side of special interests and Wall Street, trying out that pitch when he rushed to Boston in an effort to save doomed Democrat candidate Martha Coakley.

Despite the loss that gave Republicans a crucial 41st vote in the 100-seat US Senate, ending the Democrats' 60-vote supermajority needed to pass legislation along party lines, neither Democrats nor most Republicans said they thought control of Congress could be up for grabs.

But both parties expect big Republican gains and fewer Democratic seats would make it more difficult for Mr Obama to pass his agenda. Democrats still have majority control of both the House of Representatives and Senate, but yesterday's Republican upsetwas a sign of serious trouble looming this year. Even when the economy is strong, the party holding the White House historically loses seats in mid-terms.

At the Capitol, Democratic senator Claire McCaskill declared: "If there's anybody in this building that doesn't tell you they are more worried about elections today, you should absolutely slap them."

There was a grim sense among Democrats that if the Republicans could win in a traditionally deeply liberal state, Massachusetts, they could probably win anywhere.

Stunned

Yesterday, on the anniversary of his inauguration, Mr Obama was facing a need to re-evaluate both his policy -- in particular his endangered healthcare plan -- and his politics in a White House stunned by a shift in the mood of the electorate from just a year earlier. Once hopeful and supportive voters are now cranky and belligerent and floating voters have fled to the Republicans after a year of Wall Street bail-outs, enormous budget deficits and partisan wrangling over health care.

Meanwhile, Democrats huddled to chart a new way forward, with Mr Obama's sweeping health care overhaul the most urgent matter at hand now they are one vote shy of the 60-vote Senate supermajority they were counting on to block Republican delaying tactics.

hnews@herald.ie