"(Democrats in Washington) have delivered on some of those campaign promises, but it's been a messy road to get there," said Nathan Gonzalez, the political director of the Rothenberg Political Report, which rates political races. It has predicted that Democrats will lose between 25 and 30 seats in the House, quickly approaching the 39 seats Republicans need to take control.
"Health care took over a year (to pass) and in the process made some democrats upset because it didn't have a public option… The process took some enthusiasm out of the end result," said Gonzales.
Some Democrats, like Wisconsin Democratic Senator Russ Feingold, have likewise opposed the Wall Street Reform bill, which is expected to clear a key procedural hurdle in the Senate Thursday. The bill imposes new rules for banks, prohibits them from trading against their investors, and brings oversight to the shady derivatives market which contributed to the 2008 financial crisis. But critics say it does not go far enough.
Beyond depressing their base with legislative compromises, Democrats' legislative accomplishments have come at no small cost to taxpayers. The U.S. deficit inched over $1 trillion for the fiscal year this week and the national debt is more than $13 trillion.
While Republicans have, since President Bush left office, instituted an almost myopic, party-wide focus on spending and debt, Democrats have struggled to rally behind their versions of health reform and Wall Street reform. They could barely find enough votes to pass the bills. And despite millions of jobs Democrats say were created by the $862 billon stimulus bill, the unemployment rate remains high, and is not expected to come down any time soon.
"I think the public doesn't quite perceive (the accomplishments) because they don't see much change in their everyday lives. They're still having trouble finding work," said Donald Wolfensberger, director of the Congress Project at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
He said expectations for Democrats at the beginning of the Obama era were simply too high.
Plus, for all their accomplishments Democrats were unable to deliver on other issues. American troops are still fighting in Iraq, although they are transitioning out, and the military presence has grown markedly in Afghanistan. A promised bill to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and penalize industries that emit the most carbon is stalled despite public support. Senators are expected to consider a proposal later in July, but its prospects for passage this year are dismal. And a comprehensive immigration reform bill has yet to materialize.
Conservative voters, meanwhile, have been completely energized by the Democrats' accomplishments. Where Democratic lawmakers see a health care reform law that will eventually help nearly every American get insurance, Republicans see a law that signals government overreach. Where Democrats see a Wall Street reform bill to rein in Wall Street excess, Republicans see too much regulation. That backlash has fueled the Tea Party movement and energized grassroots conservatives nationwide.