WASHINGTON (AP) — In the short-on-specifics elections just ended, the economy was the main issue, Republicans ran against President Barack Obama and Democrats campaigned against the billionaire Koch brothers.
That leaves the new GOP majority in Congress with a mandate to improve the economy, yet without a national consensus on how to go about it. At the same time, shrunken Democratic minorities in the House and Senate are in search of a more appealing approach.
As if the campaign had not ended, the Democratic organization American Bridge on Friday attacked Republicans and Charles and David Koch, whose organizations spent uncounted millions to elect GOP candidates.
"It's not only that they are willing to pour infinite money into rigging our democracy. It's that in turn, Republican legislators are beholden to the Kochs' self-serving agenda — an agenda that comes at the expense of working families and a healthy environment," the group said.
Other Democrats said that was the wrong pitch to be making.
Democracy Corps, which supports Democrats, said the elections turned out the way they did in part because of the "president's failure to engage with an economic narrative and vision relevant to the current tough economy."
If correct, it wasn't an omission Republicans made during the campaign or after.
When government figures on Friday showed the economy had provided 200,000 jobs for the ninth straight month, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said it was "welcome news" but then he quickly pivoted to channel the public disenchantment that benefited his party at the polls.
"Wages remain stubbornly flat while costs continue to rise, squeezing middle-class families and putting the American dream further out of reach. We're listening, and we'll continue making Americans' priorities our priorities," he said.
The exit polls answer some questions and raise others about the midterm Republican blowout.
Large, sometimes lopsided majorities of white voters supported GOP candidates, particularly in the South. Democrats were hampered by a traditional midterm fall-off in voting by blacks, the young and others who boosted Obama to two terms in the White House.
The same surveys also lay bare a deep-seated public dissatisfaction with the status quo and with Obama. Nearly two-third of voters said the country is on the wrong track, and they voted Republican by a margin of 82 percent to 17 percent. One-third said their vote was motivated in part by opposition to the president.
Also favoring Republicans were voters over age 65, by a margin of 57-41. They accounted for 22 percent of the votes cast, according to interviews with voters after they cast their ballots, even though Census Bureau figures show they make up only 14 percent of the population.
That was after the Democrats aired television ads in Arkansas, Iowa, New Hampshire and Louisiana in the campaign's final days saying Republicans posed a threat to Social Security and Medicare. Republicans won two of those races and are favored to capture a third in a runoff.
In Iowa, Democrats went after Republican Joni Ernst with a television commercial that showed her saying, "Yes, I have talked about privatizing Social Security." She got 58 percent of the senior vote and won handily.
Yet voters hold positions on a variety of noneconomic issues that are out of favor with the conservatives they just installed in the new Congress.
More than half the voters in House races said that immigrants living in the United States illegally should be given a chance to stay if they are working, rather than face deportation. That's a position quite unpopular among the GOP lawmakers who will take office in January.
Nearly half the voters said in the exit polls they favor same sex marriages, more than half said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and well over half said climate change is an important problem.
The same electorate also installed anti-abortion and likely anti-gay marriage majorities in both houses of Congress and elected candidate after candidate who declined to take a position on climate change during the campaign.
About 46 percent of the voters said the president's health care law was about right or didn't go far enough, and 49 percent said it went too far. It's hardly an overwhelming mandate for Republicans to resume the repeal efforts that their tea party supporters are demanding as the spoils of victory.
Nor is it clear what the voters have in mind for the economy.
Four GOP-leaning states — Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota — approved increases in the minimum wage. That was at the same time they were electing conservatives to the Senate.
Once there, they will join a business-backed Republican rank and file that argues that raising the wage floor is a sure-fire job killer.
EDITOR'S NOTE — David Espo covers politics and Congress for the AP.