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Anger, advertising dominate U.S. mid-terms

By Jonathan Mann, CNN
A man arrives to vote in Las Vegas, Nevada, on October 16 as part of the state's two-week early voting period.
A man arrives to vote in Las Vegas, Nevada, on October 16 as part of the state's two-week early voting period.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Democrats, who Obama relies on in Congress, face potential disaster in the mid-term elections
  • A recent poll found 85 percent of Americans are angry or dissatisfied with the economy
  • The Tea Party political movement has thrived, with support from many Republicans
  • Researchers: Candidates and their supporters will spend at least $3.7B on the race

"Our Mann in America" is a weekly column discussing the big talking points in the U.S. for an international audience. Jonathan Mann is an anchor for CNN International and the host of Political Mann.

(CNN) -- Barack Obama won the presidency two years ago by harnessing the hopes of his supporters, but now faces a debacle after a very different campaign fueled by anger, nasty advertising and an awful lot of cash.

"Let's not fool ourselves," he said." This is a tough election. This country has gone through one of the most difficult periods of our history."

American voters go to the polls Tuesday to choose national lawmakers and state leaders, with two wars, high unemployment and record deficits on their minds.

Obama is only half-way through his term and isn't running for re-election. But he's been campaigning hard all across the country because, as the race goes into its final weekend, the Democrats he depends on in Congress face disaster.

iReport election project: Midterms

Pollsters predict the party will lose dozens of seats in the House of Representatives, giving Republicans majority control. In the Senate, the Democrats could be reduced to such a slim majority that they won't be entirely in control there either.

As difficult as things are and have been over the last two years we are moving in the right direction
--Barack Obama
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Most presidents get punished a bit by the legislative elections they all face mid-way through their four-year terms. But if the analysts are right, Obama could suffer the worst defeat in decades.

The easiest explanation is America's slow, nearly jobless climb out of recession. Obama didn't bring on the country's financial crisis and he argues that his administration prevented it from turning into a full economic collapse.

But unemployment is still 9.6 percent and the best the administration can say is that it would have been even higher and should eventually drop.

"As difficult as things are and have been over the last two years," Obama pleaded recently, "we are moving in the right direction."

A recent ABC News/Yahoo! Poll found that fully 85 percent of Americans are angry or dissatisfied with the economy.

They're not just angry, they are organizing in a new way into the Tea Party, a movement that confusingly, has nothing to do with tea and isn't a party either.

It's a loosely organized protest movement, growing rapidly and finding support from many Republicans.

Named for an 18th-century anti-tax uprising on the eve of the American Revolution, the Tea Party demands lower taxes and less government spending. It blames incumbent politicians for many of the perceived evils of American public life and has even forced respected Republicans from office.

Tea Party figures tend to be newcomers to politics and some resort to violent talk as routine campaign rhetoric.

Former Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, a Tea Party favorite who is campaigning for candidates nationwide, favors the vocabulary of hunting and "loaded" guns. Carl Paladino, running to be governor of New York, threatens to bring a baseball bat to work (and he's not planning to play baseball). A Texas candidate named Stephen Bolden even mused about armed revolution.

"Basically what is happening this year, you have these Tea Party guys passionately of the belief, rightly or wrongly, that the country is going further into the gutter because of what the Democrats are doing," said CNN contributor and conservative blogger Erick Erickson.

"They really see this (campaign) as an exchange between freedom and oppression by the government."

Encouraging the worst instincts on both sides is an astonishing barrage of often astonishing advertising. Political ads have been broadcast more than 2.6 million times in the two years since the last national elections, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group.

Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson is running ads that liken his opponent to a member of the Taliban. Fellow Congressman Joe Sestak compares Republican policies to a bag of dog droppings and actually appears in the ad holding a bag. West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin uses a gun to shoot legislation he doesn't like.

It's priceless stuff but a Washington research group has put a price on it. The Center for Responsive Politics says candidates and their supporters will spend at least $3.7 billion dollars on the race, making it the most expensive midterm in U.S. history.

"The electoral process has changed with a massive infusion of so much money into the campaigns, most of which is spent in negative advertising," said former president Jimmy Carter.

"This has created I think the deep division between Democrats and Republicans and I think the polarization of the whole country."

Even if advertising didn't create the anger and polarization it's exploiting and increasing them.

The buoyant optimism of the election that put Barack Obama into office has disappeared under the weight of the worst economic setback since the Great Depression. When Americans go to the polls Tuesday, millions of them will go angry.

 
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