BARACK Obama and the Democratic Party were preparing yesterday to mark a grim anniversary after his first year in the White House.
Defeat in a Senate election in Massachusetts would be a dramatic low in his presidency a year to the day since his star-studded inauguration in Washington.
Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate, may still avoid humiliation when results are announced Wednesday.
But her Republican opponent, Scott Brown, has been able to take a commanding lead in the polls in a seat held for almost 50 years by the late Senator Edward Kennedy.
Amid massive expectations, and with rare majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, Mr Obama and his allies would by now have expected to be celebrating a year of solid achievement.
Instead, after 12 months of stuttering progress, their entire programme was endangered by a little-known Republican state senator whose previous claim to fame was being dubbed America's Sexiest Man in 1982 by 'Cosmopolitan'.
Mr Brown posed nude for the magazine to pay his way through university, and now preaches a message of fiscal discipline that has struck a chord with voters scared by the growing national debt.
Having started 30 percentage points behind, Mr Brown ended campaigning leading every poll by nine to 15 points. Turnout was expected to be high but may have been affected by heavy snow.
Even if the 50-year-old part-time lawyer does not win the special election, the closeness of the race has reverberated across the country.
The late senator's dream of health coverage for all Americans, delayed beyond Mr Obama's Christmas deadline by bitter rows among Democrats, would probably be derailed by Mr Brown's election.
He would replace the interim senator Paul Kirk, a former Kennedy aide, and provide Republicans with the 41st vote needed to defeat the bill by a delaying mechanism.
Mr Brown denied that the election was simply about health care or Mr Obama.
"It's a referendum on what our country stands for, which is fairness, good government and bringing conversation back to the equation," he said.
Democrats have already begun the blame game that accompanies a debacle for either party.
The White House, according to reports, blamed Mrs Coakley for a lame campaign in which she took off most of Christmas week. Aides claimed Mr Brown had been underestimated.
Some Democratic strategists have turned their ire on the resident for not selling the party's agenda more forcefully, losing independent voters. (© Daily Telegraph, London)