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Once again, the electorate demanded a new start

By Karen Tumulty Washington Post Staff Writer

There is no blunter way for voters to send a message. For the third election in a row, Americans kicked a political party out of power.

So you would think that, by now, politicians in Washington would have gotten the message: They must be doing something wrong.

From the moment they lift their right hands to take the oath of office, lawmakers are now on notice that their hard-won power may be short-lived.

"Let's start right now by recognizing this is not a time for celebration," House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), the presumed speaker-to-be, declared in his victory speech. "This is a time to roll up our sleeves and go to work."

In 2006, both chambers of Congress changed hands, from Republican to Democratic. In 2008, control of the White House followed, and this year, the GOP has won back the House.

Incumbency is no longer the protection it once was, particularly in districts where the balance between the two parties is close. Among the hardest-hit in Tuesday's election were first- and second-term House Democrats whose elections two and four years ago were heralded as the beginning of a new era for the party.

Such rapid reversals, particularly in the House, are relatively new in modern U.S. politics. It took four decades of Democratic control before voters turned over the House to Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and his band of Republican revolutionaries in 1994. A mere 12 years after that, Democrats won back control. And now, just four years later, Republicans have seized it again.

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