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A Conciliatory President Confronts a New Washington, New Electoral Map for 2012

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President Barack Obama called Tuesday’s results a “shellacking” for his party and pledged to work harder to find common ground with Republicans, even as he acknowledged that 2012 is looming for both sides.

Barely a day after the midterm elections dealt a devastating blow to Democrats, President Barack Obama is already signaling that he has moved to the “what’s next” stage of his presidency — namely, to begin preparing for his 2012 re-election campaign.

In his first appearance since Republicans picked up a net gain of more than 60 seats in the House and at least six in the Senate, Obama acknowledged Wednesday the “shellacking” his party took. He adopted a tone of reflection just hours after making a congratulatory call to the likely incoming Speaker, John Boehner (R-Ohio).

Obama said during a White House news conference that he will heed the message he heard loud and clear in the elections: that progress made by his administration isn’t being felt by Americans worried about jobs and the economy, and voters are tired of bickering.

“I’m doing a whole lot of reflecting,” he said. “We were in such a hurry to get things done, we didn’t change how things got done, and I think that frustrated people.”

Add to those reflections a new reliance on such words as “consensus” and “together” and a vow to make bipartisanship work this time around, and suddenly there’s a new White House agenda framed around what people will be looking for in the next presidential race.

Obama said he knows the GOP won’t agree with him on everything; he warned incoming leaders that the election result proves voters aren’t interested in spending “the next two years refighting the political battles of the last two.” That’s a request unlikely to be greeted warmly as GOP leaders have already signaled that stripping down the president’s health care law is a top priority.

But even as Obama pressed for collaboration with GOP leaders, he was already looking ahead.

“We just had a tough election. We will have another in 2012. I’m not so naive as to think that everybody will put politics aside until then,” he said.

The president said he will focus on the issues that will have the biggest effect on Americans’ jobs: reducing the deficit, promoting clean energy, boosting education and investments in technology — all issues that will play well in 2012.

But Obama faces a new set of obstacles. In 2008, his presidential campaign drove a shift of the electoral map, putting into play some deep red states that hadn’t embraced the Democratic Party in four decades. Now, the map has shifted again as Republicans reclaimed their standing in traditional presidential battlegrounds and in some of Obama’s prize pickups, such as Virginia and Indiana.

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