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Horford agrees to $60 million extension with Hawks

Horford agrees to $60 million extension with Hawks

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No matter the final outcome of tonight's election results, the 2010 midterm contest is likely to be remembered as another vindication of the "angry" U.S. voter looking to shake up the status quo in Washington. But this tumultuous election cycle suggests that the American electorate is actually acting out of a more complex range of emotions than simple anger. "Anxiety"and "unease" are far less catchy terms for the voting public's mood -- but they seem a better way of evoking the sense of apprehension that is likely to accompany many voters to the polling booth today.

Two years after Barack Obama was boosted into the White House on a message of change and hope, it's not exactly news that the national outlook has soured. Voters are struggling with historic unemployment numbers and a troubled economy that has affected virtually everyone in America.

And over the same period, that anxiety has found increasingly sharp expression on the campaign trail. On the right, of course, economic woes have helped stoke the meteoric rise of the conservative tea party, which looks to gain a significant foothold in Congress tonight after mounting a passionate -- and yes, at times angry -- campaign against Obama's Washington and the status quo.

"You blew it, President Obama," Sarah Palin, a leader of the movement, said on "Fox News Sunday." "We gave you two years to fulfill your promise of making sure our economy starts roaring back to life again -- and instead I believe things are getting worse."

[More coverage: Sarah Palin: 'You blew it, President Obama' ]

On the left, meanwhile, many among Obama's 2008 progressive base of supporters also share mounting anger and disappointment. Those voters tend to be disenchanted by the president's failure to deliver fully on the vision of change that propelled him to the presidency. "Democrats are dissatisfied because they expected a miracle," says Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf, who predicts low voter turnout. "They have a John Wayne problem. They expected everything to be fixed in an hour and a half. So they're not coming out."

In both cases, though, it's easy to overstate anger -- and to downplay the deeper frustrations voters on both sides of the partisan divide feel about a change-resistant status quo in our national politics. As much as anything, Republicans are poised to capture significant gains in Congress today because of the pervasive sense that the present alignment of power in Washington may well cause the state of the country -- and especially of the economy -- to get worse before it gets better.

According to the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, just 25 percent of likely voters described themselves as "angry," while a full 50 percent -- a majority -- described their feelings about Washington as "dissatisfied."

[Related: Democrats bracing for loss on Election Day]

But dissatisfaction, too, may be too vague -- and too tame -- a characterization. The more accurate term might be "depressed." According to the latest Yahoo! News/ABC News poll, just 33 percent of Americans said they were "optimistic" about how well the government works -- the lowest number in 36 years when stacked up against comparable surveys. Meanwhile, nearly a quarter of those polled -- 23 percent -- say that America "used to be a great country but isn't anymore," the highest number in nearly three decades.

It's that grim feeling about the state of the nation that has many high-profile incumbents in serious trouble this Election Day.

Could "skeletons in the closet" sway your vote in the election homestretch?

In Nevada -- which has the highest unemployment rate in the country at 14.4 percent -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid entered Tuesday losing to tea party favorite Sharron Angle, a political novice who made Reid's inattention to the state's economic crisis a central plank of her campaign. In Wisconsin, three-term Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold was losing to GOP opponent Ron Johnson, amid serious voter dismay over Obama's presidency.

Republicans are sure to benefit from this widespread voter dissatisfaction -- but the party shouldn't take much comfort from tonight's election results. Unlike previous "wave" elections, polls show voters aren't any happier with Republicans than they are with Democrats. Just 34 percent of likely voters have a "favorable" view of the GOP, compared with 39 percent for Democrats, according to the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.

That means the stakes will be high for the leaders of both major parties heading into the new Congress, no matter which one emerges victorious tonight. Voters dissatisfied and disillusioned with Obama will be looking for Republicans to deliver on the GOP's promises to improve the economy in the aftermath of campaign season.

[Related: Hefty percentage of undecided voters]

But it's unlikely Republicans will win a governing majority to make the sweeping changes they promised on the campaign trail. A very likely scenario going forward would be long-term political gridlock in Washington -- unless the parties find areas of compromise. And with voters seeming to come together this year on the sentiment that Washington is broken, both parties could find themselves at serious risk in 2012.

(Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)