Analysis: Dems out of jobs options before election
And there's virtually nothing Democrats can do to change that reality before Nov. 2.
Time has all but run out for President Barack Obama and his party, which had hoped for a big economic turnaround by the homestretch of the midterm elections.
But with just two months left in the campaign, the Labor Department reported Friday that the nation's unemployment rate rose to 9.6 percent in August — inching up for the first time in four months as the economy shed 54,000 jobs and more than a half-million Americans resumed their work searches.
"We're moving in the right direction. We just have to speed it up," Obama insisted, focusing on the 67,000 jobs that private business added last month. He struck both realistic and optimistic tones, saying: "There's no quick fix" and, yet, "There are better days ahead."
For the country, maybe so. For Democrats, probably not.
"It's the economy, stupid," was the oft-repeated message of Bill Clinton's winning presidential campaign in 1992. The point: Don't bother overmuch with other issues; elections are won or lost on how people are feeling about their own economic well-being.
Now, the traditional Labor Day start of the fall campaign has arrived. And "Recovery Summer" — as the White House dubbed it earlier this year — is still among the missing.
Making matters worse for the Democrats, early voting gets under way shortly in many states, including several with double-digit joblessness that's worse than the national average.
Given all that, Democrats who have controlled Congress since 2006 — and during the near-economic meltdown of late 2008 — are bracing for a heavy dose of blame from frustrated voters.
Obama, too. He inherited an economy in tatters from President George W. Bush, but he owns it now, in the second year of his presidency and following attempts to jump-start American business and industry. Those efforts included the much-heralded $814 billion stimulus plan that Republicans, and some voters, claim didn't work.
The president's not on the ballot, but he's got a lot on the line.
Using the Democrats' economic record against them, Republicans are pushing to gain control of the House and, perhaps, the Senate as well as a number of governorships. The outcome will shape the remainder of Obama's first term and his likely re-election bid in 2012.
Mindful of all that, Obama on Friday acknowledged that his administration must do more to create jobs and accelerate growth. He urged Congress to take up a small-business jobs bill and castigated Senate Republicans for blocking it. He plans to discuss a jobs package next week and travel to Wisconsin and Ohio to promote his administration's economic work.
There are signs, to be sure, that the economy is recovering; credit has loosened up, and industrial production has increased. Recent reports on housing, manufacturing and private sector hiring indicate slow growth.
But it's hard to feel like the economy is improving if you're unemployed and can't find work.
And a Commerce Department report caused heartburn last week by showing the gross domestic product — the broadest measure of the economy's output — grew at an annual rate of just 1.6 percent in the spring, more sluggishly than at the start of the year.
Republicans used the latest economic news to pummel Democrats anew.
"A year that began with Americans bracing for a jobless recovery has instead turned into a full-blown search for both jobs and a recovery," House GOP Leader John Boehner said. Added Rep. Eric Cantor, the No. 2 Republican: "The policies being pursued by the White House and Democrat leaders in Washington continue to create uncertainty and fear that is inhibiting productivity, innovation and job creation."
With those kinds of attacks and nothing good to say on jobs, Democrats have few options but to intensify their efforts to stoke fears of Republican economic policies — and try to make GOP candidates unacceptable.
Nationwide, Democrats have been arguing that Republicans are cozy with Wall Street and would make a tough situation even worse by returning to a Bush-era economic approach that, they say, sent the country reeling.
"He voted for all the Bush policies that got us into this mess, like tax breaks to ship jobs to China," says an ad by Senate Democratic hopeful Alexi Giannoulias against Republican Mark Kirk in Illinois. "Then, after six straight months of job loss, Kirk voted against extending unemployment benefits, saying unemployment isn't a big issue."
But in a sign they know how difficult a sell they have on the economy, Democrats also have been trying to shift the debate by warning voters that Republicans will privatize Social Security and decimate Medicare — perhaps an effort to scare seniors and get them to vote Democratic.
Republicans, meanwhile, crow that the Democrats' economic fixes have failed to create jobs. They ignore a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that shows the stimulus plan increased the number of employed people by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million. And the GOP hasn't yet offered a jobs plan of its own.
That hasn't stopped Republicans from going after Democrats on jobs, most notably in Nevada where the Senate Democratic leader is trying to fend off tea party-backed Sharron Angle.
She recently rolled out a TV ad saying: "On Harry Reid's watch Nevada's unemployment rate has shot past 14 percent. Highest in the country. Our foreclosure rate is highest in the nation. Home values have dropped almost 50 percent. Those aren't just numbers. They're people who've lost their jobs. Families who've lost their homes ... and he wants to call me an extremist?"
Elsewhere, a GOP-aligned outside group is running ads in Ohio promoting Republican Senate candidate Rob Portman's jobs plan. Another one hits Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado for voting for the "failed stimulus program" and "over 100,000 Colorado jobs lost."
But for all the talk, neither Democrats nor Republicans have the power to create jobs between now and November.
On Election Day, voters will sort through the campaign clutter to determine whom they trust the most on the two top issues of this campaign — fixing the economy and creating jobs.
EDITOR'S NOTE — Liz Sidoti has covered national politics for The Associated Press since 2003.