Somber White House tries to put brave face on defeat

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - So much for criticism that Barack Obama doesn’t show emotion. On Wednesday the Democratic president’s mood was clear: somber, resigned, and chastened by the biggest political drubbing of his career.

President Barack Obama departs down the cross hall of the White House after concluding his post-election news conference in the East Room in Washington, November 3, 2010. REUTERS/Larry Downing

“It feels bad,” Obama replied, when asked at a press conference about his emotions after Tuesday’s election handed Republicans control of the House of Representatives and state legislatures across the country.

The president looked like it felt bad. Wearing a red tie and a dark suit, he lowered his eyes frequently during a nearly hour-long session with reporters, spoke in a largely unanimated tone, and appeared bruised.

“After what I’m sure was a long night for a lot of you -- and, needless to say, it was for me -- I can tell you that, you know, some election nights are more fun than others. Some are exhilarating, some are humbling,” Obama said.

Tuesday’s poll fell into the humbling category for Obama two years after a resounding victory over Republican John McCain catapulted him to the presidency. Despite campaigning for weeks to prevent a political blowout in the midterm elections, Republicans prevailed, gaining at least 60 seats in the House and strengthened their numbers in the Senate.

The election cast a cloud of gloom over the White House. Aides tried to put a brave face on the defeat, saying Democrats were still more popular than Republicans as a whole and noting the public wanted both political parties to work together.

Obama took responsibility for a myriad mistakes that contributed to the electoral rout: setting a combative tone with businesses, not making enough progress on the economy, and failing to change the way Washington works.

“There’s no doubt that as I reflect on the results of the election, it underscores for me that I’ve got to do a better job, just like everybody else in Washington does,” he said.

Obama perked up for a few questions and raised his voice when admitting that he would not be able to advance his policies without Republican support.

He bantered with reporters about holding a “Slurpee Summit” -- a play on his oft-repeated metaphor that Republicans were sipping the frosty drink while Democrats pulled the country out of an economic ditch.

And he became pensive when asked whether he was willing to change his personal leadership style.

“I think it’s important to point out ... that a couple of great communicators, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, were standing at this podium two years into their presidency getting very similar questions because the economy wasn’t working the way it needed to be,” he said.

“The relationship that I’ve had with the American people is one that built slowly, peaked at this incredible high, and then ... has gotten rockier and tougher. And it’s going to, I’m sure, have some more ups and downs during the course of me being in this office.”

Reporting by Jeff Mason; editing by Simon Denyer and Christopher Wilson