The "summer of recovery" wasn't. And now, if Democrats hope to hang on to power on Capitol Hill, their political survival will be a lonely process.
Facing longer odds in their efforts to hang on to Congress, Democrats are all but abandoning hopes of running on a national narrative in 2010. Instead, they're embracing a ground-level strategy that they hope will allow them to limit their losses in November by framing individual races as stark choices for voters.
With the fall campaign beginning in earnest this week, party leaders are primarily intent on seeking to disqualify Republican candidates in targeted districts. And they're pursuing a strategy of retrenchment as they identify the dwindling list of seats they believe they can hold on to, forcing Democrats who have the least chance of being reelected to fend for themselves in the final push.
The strategy is emerging as an undeniable series of trends is forcing Democrats to rethink their messaging and distribution of resources.
The battle for control of Congress hasn't seen ups and downs; the campaign to date has been a growing wave that even Democrats increasingly see as likely to wash them out of power in the House.
The Senate is a better bet to stay in Democratic hands, but even it may be in jeopardy, too.
Leading Democrats realize that they won't be able to depend on President Obama for any substantial messaging to keep themselves above water.
The hoped-for "summer of recovery" has turned out to be a bust, stripping Democrats of their last best shot at tangible results to tout on the biggest issue before voters.
Meanwhile, the president's popularity among independent voters has continued to sag, expanding the portions of the map where he is unlikely to be able to help members of his party.
So while Obama seeks to reframe the national debate this week by focusing on the economy and outlining new steps Democrats say they would enact, the campaign is really being fought out at a much more granular level, with an every-man-for-himself mentality taking hold.
A growing number of Democrats are framing themselves in their opposition to the national party, touting votes against the president on items including bank bailouts, health care, and stimulus legislation.
Harsh negative ads -- with Democrats hoping to paint their opponents as outside the mainstream -- have begun uncommonly early and are likely to proliferate.
From the national perspective, Democratic leaders have indicated that they'll have to write off a chunk of Democratic-held districts -- perhaps 20 or more -- that they've concluded are all but gone.
That will allow Democrats to focus their resources as they try to hold back the coming GOP tide. Republicans need 39 seats to take control of the House, but they'll actually have to pick up closer to 45 Democratic-held districts because a handful of GOP seats are likely to flip to Democrats.
That's very much within the realm of possibility, if not an outright likelihood, according to a range of independent forecasters and strategists in both parties.
In the Senate, Republicans need to pick up 10 seats to take back control. That has long been seen as a remote possibility, given that only 37 Senate seats are on the ballot in November. But races in a few new states -- including West Virginia and Connecticut -- are moving into possible contention, giving Republicans at least a shot at the Senate.
Such movement has been the story of this election, and it tracks the contours of other big wave years, including 1994 and 2006. Republicans four years ago felt like Democrats do now: Dreading the national picture, and hoping that local factors and forces could keep them in power.
The situation leaves Democrats and the White House frustrated. The president was already limited geographically, with some Democrats not particularly eager to see him campaign in their states and districts.
Now Democrats enter the final phase with no clear message they'd like to see emanate from the top.
With few if any chances to change the national discussion before November, the election looks like a battle for pure survival for Democrats.