Parties' midterm results may turn on jobs, or lack thereof

  • Caroline County resident Rhea Mayolo is shown in an Internet video promoting the federal stimulus package that helped her land a job. She is a field inspector for Century Engineering.
Caroline County resident Rhea Mayolo is shown in an Internet… (Handout )
April 06, 2010|By Paul West |

HILLSBORO — Rhea Mayolo is a Caroline County mini-celebrity. Her video is on YouTube, and top officials from Washington and Annapolis sing her praises.

Her claim to fame? She went from government assistance and a waitressing gig to a new career, thanks to the federal stimulus program.

She "typifies what the stimulus means," Maryland Highway Administrator Neil J. Pedersen said at a recent Eastern Shore groundbreaking event where Mayolo, ceremonial shovel in hand, posed for photos.

Selling voters on the success of the stimulus program and the government's commitment to creating jobs is crucial to the Democrats' 2010 campaign strategy. With employment numbers finally starting to tick up, Democrats would like to think that signs of recovery - and stories like Mayolo's - will soften a bad economy's impact on their election prospects in November.

However, unemployment is forecast to stay above 9 percent nationally into the fall, a big reason analysts predict that Republicans will add House and Senate seats, and pick up governorships across the country. And Republicans, who opposed the stimulus plan in Congress and continue to attack it, would say Mayolo deserves to be singled out - because so few Americans actually got a stimulus job.

Recent national polling suggests Republicans are winning the jobs debate, with a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey showing Americans trust Republicans more than Democrats to manage the economy. President Barack Obama, in an otherwise upbeat speech to campaign donors in Boston recently, warned that the 2010 elections "will be hard" on his fellow Democrats.

More than half of all Americans say they, or someone in their household, has been out of work or looking for a job in the past year, according to an independent Pew Research Center survey out last month.

"On the economic front, there has to be some tangible sign that things are getting better for that to not play an important role" in the election, said Andrew Kohut, Pew Center president. He said it is "undeniable that the Democrats are going to lose seats. The question is: How big will those losses be and will they be offset by some sense that things are getting a little better, some sense of optimism about the future."

Convincing voters that Democrats are doing everything they can to create jobs is a priority for the party's elected officials and candidates, from Obama to Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and on down.

The president said over the weekend that repairing the damage from the recession "will continue to be my focus every single day." And after the government reported that employers added jobs in March at the fastest rate in more than two years, O'Malley toured a cyber-security company in downtown Baltimore to promote a new employment tax credit recently signed into law by Obama.

Democrats in Washington, such as House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, used the latest jobs numbers to boast that their initiatives, including the stimulus program, "are starting to return our economy to strength."

But Republicans point to the flip side of the employment picture.

"It is unacceptable for President Obama to declare economic success when unemployment remains at 9.7 percent and a large portion of the job growth came from [a] temporary boost in government employment," Republican National Chairman Michael S. Steele said in a statement. "American workers wonder why the only place exempt from increasingly painful belt-tightening seems to be Washington, D.C."

Some strategists say jobs will determine the 2010 election results.

"If the unemployment rate is down at the 8 [percent]-ish level, Republicans are going to do well. If unemployment is 9 percent and heading toward 10 percent, it's going to be a great year," said Bill Greener, a Republican media consultant. "All the other factors are just totally at the margins."

Greener said he's producing campaign commercials for Republican candidates who'll pledge that "from Day One my top priority is going to be jobs and putting people back to work." He also plans to advise candidates to question the effectiveness of Democratic job-creation efforts.

Across the country, Republican candidates greeted last week's reported job gains by again attacking the Democratic health care law as "a job killer" and also going after the stimulus program. The stimulus debate appears to favor Republicans, with voters giving at best a middling grade to the spending program's effectiveness.

The Democratic campaign playbook seems designed to give supporters a counter-argument.

U.S. Rep. Frank Kratovil, whose district that includes the Eastern Shore is expected to produce one of the hardest-fought contests in the nation, says government figures show stimulus spending is making a difference. It added between 1 million and 2.1 million people to the U.S. work force in the last quarter of 2009, according to a late February estimate by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

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