President Barack Obama’s top Republican foe in the US Senate says that the party’s number one goal after elections next week must be to retake the White House in 2012.

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“Our single biggest political goal is to give our nominee for president the maximum opportunity to be successful,” Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told the National Journal, which focuses on US politics and policy.

Amid deep US voter anger at the sour economy and high unemployment, analysts say Republicans are on track to recapture the House of Representatives in the November 2 vote but will fall shy of retaking the Senate.

White House spokesman Bill Burton said Obama was “in a fighting mood” ahead of the elections and pointed to McConnell’s comments as a sign that the president’s opponents would pursue an “obstruction” strategy.

Obama “feels like we’ve got a good message and that the American people, as they get more and more engaged in these races, as they are now, see clearly what the stakes are,” said Burton.

In the interview, McConnell underlined that Republicans must be careful not to repeat the mistakes they made after retaking the Congress in 1994 — only to see then-president Bill Clinton coast to reelection in 1996.

“We need to work smarter than we did, and not become the foil off which (President Obama) pivots,” said the lawmaker, whose home state of Kentucky could elect a new senator backed by the arch-conservative “Tea Party” movement.

McConnell, whose preferred candidate lost Kentucky’s Republican primary to “Tea Party” hopeful Rand Paul, warned the movement not to expect sweeping changes in Washington as long as Obama is president.

“One of the things we will have to remind newcomers and those who have supported them is that even though we will have a larger Republican conference, we do not control the government and cannot control the government when the president holds the veto pen,” McConnell told the National Journal.

“We need to have a humble, grateful response about this election,” he added, wryly noting: “Incidentally, there is no polling data that suggests (the voters) love us.”

Despite their strong standing ahead of the mid-term elections, Republicans still face strong skepticism from the US public, more of whom blame former president George W. Bush for the wretched economy than blame Obama.