WASHINGTON - Travel through the political battlegrounds in these final days of Election 2010 and it becomes clear how much the tenor of this recession-plagued country has changed in the two years since President Obama swept into office on his message of hope and change.
A far grimmer mood now pervades the electorate, one shaped not just by the immediacy of the economic distress that has hit virtually every household in the nation, but by fears that it might take years for everyone, from the average family to the federal government, to climb out of the hole created by the worst recession since the Great Depression.
On Tuesday, Republicans are poised to reap the benefits of the enormous dissatisfaction with the status quo; Obama's Democratic Party will feel the sting of rejection. There is little doubt that the outcome will change the balance of power in Washington.
But the winners should take little comfort from the results. Dissatisfaction with Republicans is even greater than with the Democrats and the voters have conflicted expectations about what should happen in Washington.
Anger is one word that is often used to describe the electorate this year, and that is certainly accurate.
But one word cannot adequately describe the sentiments expressed by voters and digested by the candidates as they campaign. Along with the anger, there is fear, worry, disappointment and disillusionment.
Everyone, it seems, has a grievance, whether it is with what they see as the creeping - some say galloping - socialism of the Obama administration's policies, or what many believe is the abandonment of the middle class by the federal government or the feeling that Washington is broken almost beyond repair.
Clark Bisbee, 61, was on his way to pick up an absentee ballot in Jackson, Mich., on a recent afternoon when he stopped to talk about Tuesday's election. Over the past few years, he said, he has seen the value of his house plummet, the value of his office building plunge, his travel agency fall on hard times and his once-healthy IRA shrink.
"I went from maybe having a net worth of a million and a half dollars to being underwater on everything," he said, standing in the nearly empty downtown streets of this town of 33,000. "I'm angry."
A block away in Jackson, a woman who declined to give her name offered a different characterization of her mood. Two years ago, she voted Democratic in the House election in her district. On Tuesday, she said, she will vote for the Republican against the Democratic incumbent.
"I'm not an angry person," she said. "I'm leery. I'm not very trusting. I think we need to come back to taking care of things ourselves. I don't want the government to be bigger. I want less government ruling my life."