Salena Zito

He may have mood in his favor: Just as in 2009 and 2010, Gallup’s latest numbers show conservative ideology predominating in the American electorate – with 41 percent self-identifying as conservative, 36 percent as moderate and 21 percent as liberal.

So while one poll shows voters unhappy with Congress, another shows their personal values leaning strongly conservative, favoring Republicans.

Democrats also will face a more difficult time from a unity-and-enthusiasm perspective, given progressives’ dissatisfaction with the federal debt deal and with Obama’s lack of leadership following the nation’s credit downgrade.

And if last week’s recall elections for six Wisconsin state senate seats were a harbinger of 2012’s U.S. House races, consider this: Wisconsin’s vote was "presidential,” meaning that Democrats brought out people who usually don't vote – the poor, blacks, students – yet independent voters went conservative and voted for Republican incumbents, demonstrating that they are just as passionate about budgets, taxes and entitlements as are unions.

The next election could produce a Democrat House, a Republican Senate and, possibly, a second Obama term, according to Purdue University political science professor Bert Rockman, not so much “because people think Obama’s doing so well than because of the weakness of the Republican presidential field.”

Huge “wave” elections, such as those in 1994, 2006 or 2010, hinge on trust and blame. What’s unclear today is whether voters blame one party or the other for what’s wrong.

“Which is why I will spend my time out there on Main Street listening to voters’ concerns,” replies the GOP’s Sessions. “I may not like everything they say but that is how you understand how the country feels about your decisions.”

He has 15 months to see if Republicans can earn those voters’ trust.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.