2006 was a year of change in U.S. politics as Democrats won back control of Congress for the first time in 12 years. As VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports from Washington, public unhappiness over the war in Iraq was a major factor in Democratic victories in the November congressional midterm elections.
With Democrats ready to take control of the Senate and House of Representatives in January, both parties say they are open to compromise and cooperation, at least for now.
Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi of California is set to become the first woman Speaker of the House.
"I look forward to working in a confidence building way with the president, recognizing that we have our differences and we will debate them and that is what our founders intended," she said.
There were conciliatory words as well from President Bush, who will have to finish out the last two years of his presidency without a Republican majority in Congress.
"The elections are now behind us but the challenges still remain and, therefore, we are going to work together to address those challenges in a constructive way," he said.
Voter surveys indicated that public discontent over the war in Iraq played a major role in the election.
"We saw a dramatic change because voters, Americans in general, were dissatisfied with the direction of the country, the president's performance and particularly what was happening on the ground in Iraq," said Stuart Rothenberg, who publishes an independent political newsletter in Washington. "So, this election was certainly about change versus status quo."
Republicans were also hurt by an influence-peddling scandal involving now disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and the controversy involving former Republican Congressman Mark Foley and his inappropriate sexual e-mails to teenage congressional pages.
Many political experts believe the election results also demonstrate the public's yearning for a more centrist approach to the nation's problems and a rejection of the sharp partisan differences that have characterized U.S. political debate in recent years.
University of Virginia analyst Larry Sabato says self-described moderate and independent voters preferred Democratic candidates over Republicans by a wide margin.
"The moderates, the centrists, were just about divided in 2004, as were the pure independents, between the two major parties," he said. "This year, close to 60 percent of the independents and the moderates voted Democratic. So it is obvious where the shift came in. The centrists and moderates were the ones who were unhappy and they made sure that their voices, collectively, were heard."
Democrats saw the election results as vindication of their campaign promises to change course in Iraq and clean up congressional corruption.
But some experts caution Democrats not to exaggerate their support among the public.
"...If Democrats see this as a mandate, I think they are crazy," says Charles Cook, editor of the influential Cook Political Report. "If they see this as an opportunity, then I think they are smart, because nobody voted for Democrats, they voted against Republicans."
Washington now faces the prospect of divided government, much as it did during most of the administration of former President Bill Clinton.
Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg predicts the post-election promises of cooperation from the president and congressional Democrats could quickly give way to partisan bickering over Iraq and other issues.
"So the president at one moment sounds open to changing policy, and the next minute sounds like he is not eager to change it," he said. "Democrats one moment sound as though they want to be bipartisan and cooperate, but within a matter of months now, I think you will see a number of oversight hearings examining administration policy on everything from Iraq to high gas prices in the United States to what the administration did after Hurricane Katrina, and that is likely to add some significant bitterness to the water."
Another complicating factor is the early activity in advance of the 2008 presidential election. For the first time since 1952, no sitting president or vice president is in the running, and both parties expect competitive races in the caucuses and primaries that make up the nominating process.
That could cause some Republican contenders who would normally support President Bush to break with him on certain issues, to enhance their own chances at the Republican presidential nomination.