At 7:01, CNN made its first election call. Within 60 seconds of the polls closing, the network named Rand Paul the new senator in Kentucky.

Correspondent Wolf Blitzer gave the credit to Paul's statewide, Tea Party support. That and a clear desire for smaller government, aligned with the worry over the state of the economy, were the keys according to Blitzer.

It was a combination that repeated itself all evening long.

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New Senator and Tea Party favourite Rand Paul and his wife Kelley at their victory celebration in Bowling Green, Ky., on Nov. 2, 2010. (Ed Reinke/Associated Press)

In the end, the result was a clear repudiation of President Barack Obama. His coattails proved shorter than most men's boxers.

First- and second-term congressional Democrats — those who were helped to office by anti-Bush sentiment in 2006 and Obama's overwhelmingly popularity in 2008 — were now being shovelled out the door.

In 2008, there were 48 House seats that went Democrat even as they were won by the Republican presidential nominee, John McCain. On Tuesday night, 43 of those returned to the Republican fold.

Exit the kingmakers

Neither time nor power in office guaranteed safety. Democratic committee chairmen Ike Skelton, James Oberstar, Chet Edwards and John Spratt went down in the sweep. Each had more than 20 years service on Capitol Hill.

In the Senate, the Republicans picked up six seats and drew close in others. But they will not get the 10 that are needed to control that chamber.

In what you might call their only real loss, the Republicans failed to unseat Democratic Senator Harry Reid in Nevada. But Reid, the Senate majority leader, needed a Herculean effort of his own to slip through. He battled and spent millions to defeat Tea Party favourite Sharron Angle.

However, Reid's battles don't end here as there are a number of Democratic senators who may challenge his leadership.

On the House side, of course, the historic rule of Nancy Pelosi is over.

The first female Speaker will serve for a few more months until the new Congress takes over. But it's clear she cannot stay in office.

She has become the old-school Democrat that every one hated. In this election, virtually no Democratic candidate wanted her on the same campaign stage.

Forget the usual excuses

An attractive and able politician, Pelosi, made enemies and few friends almost from her first days as Speaker.

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A lightening rod for the Democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi won re-election in California but won't be back as Speaker. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

She was more to the left than her party. She was heavy handed with some of her colleagues and she never seemed to break bread with the public.

She also must take much of the responsibility for the acrimony that built up in the House over the last two years.

In the days ahead, as politicians and analysts pick over the entrails of this vote, there will be all the usual excuses. Democrats will point to the expected losses that an incumbent president so often experiences in an off-year election.

But this year's Democratic loss of more than 60 seats is the largest single thumping since the Second World War.

What's more, the extensive exit polls clearly identified the cause of the bad news and most of it stems from President Obama's desk.

The independent voter

In exit polling, 55 per cent of voters said they disapproved of the president's job performance and were voting that disapproval.

In the process, 41 per cent of voters described themselves as conservatives, up from 32 per cent in 2006 and 34 per cent in 2008. Attitudes are clearly changing.

In the last days of the campaign, Obama took to the hustings and campuses, aiming his efforts at young people and minorities, urging them to turn out as they did for him in 2008.

That effort also failed. Only 10 per cent of young voters cast a ballot this time compared to nearly 20 per cent just two years ago.

Minority voters also stayed away. African-American voters did not vote in the same numbers, largely, it is believed, because Obama was not on the ticket.   The real Democratic killer, though, was the independent voter.

In 2008, independents favoured Democrats by 17 per cent. Last night that figure broke for GOP candidates and the shift was tsunami-like.

Money helped

Money helped, of course. If you had large campaign war chests, as many Republicans did, you could win. But money was no guarantee.

In California, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman spent $140 million of her own money and lost to Democrat Jerry Brown, who retakes the governorship that he held nearly 20 years ago when he was sometimes known as Governor Moonbeam.

The Tea Party, too, was a big winner. Yes, its high-profile candidate, the ditsy Christine ("I am not a witch") O'Donnell, lost in Delaware and there were misses in a few other places, notably Nevada, as well.

But there were significant successes. Rand Paul in Kentucky and Marco Rubio in Florida not only won Senate seats but may prove to be leaders in Washington.

What's more, no one can deny the enthusiasm the Tea Party brought to this campaign and most of that enthusiasm helped Republicans.

Of course, how that enthusiasm gets channelled is still unclear.

Tea Party winners continue to talk about "taking back" the government, but taking it back from whom and for whom is still to be determined.

The message from the American voter on the other hand is very clear: We want jobs.

We want the economy improved and the debt erased and we want smaller government.

If you scan the newspapers and websites today you will find many quotes from party leaders on both sides, including Barack Obama, saying goodwill is now necessary and that everyone is willing to work towards that end.

We'll see.