As the White House mulls a smaller, second round of economic stimulus, a key concern for Democrats is how best to help hard-hit political swing states with mounting unemployment.
With a range of foreign and domestic issues pressing on President Obama, one still trumps them all: the economy. Without significant job creation, Democrats could see significant political setbacks come the 2010 midterm elections and beyond.
“I think the urgency in getting our economy moving again now is the same urgency that, quite frankly, the economic team had the first day we walked in here,” said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. “There's been a urgency around that … throughout the campaign.”
Potential trouble spots for Obama abound. The unemployment rate in North Carolina is 10.8 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, higher than the national average of 9.8 percent.
A recent poll of North Carolina voters found a majority disapprove of the job Obama is doing — 53 percent, to 44 percent who said they approve, according to a Civitas Flash poll.
More ominous still, the poll found that Obama has lost the support of the state's unaffiliated voters, 63 percent of whom view him unfavorably. Seventy-one percent of Democrats approve of him, along with 17 percent of Republicans.
Maintaining the support of his own party plus the nation's independent voters is essential for Obama and the Democratic Party to hold off major gains by Republicans in 2010. Polls have shown concern about economic matters driving independents away.
Also worrisome are states like Indiana, which has a 9.9 unemployment rate, and Ohio, which has 10.8 percent unemployment. Michigan, critical in most elections, has the highest unemployment in the nation, a 15.2 percent.
But even states like Iowa, with comparatively low unemployment at 6.8 percent, present challenges for Democrats. Dennis Goldford, a political scientist at Drake University, said Iowa tends to lag the rest of the nation but has also felt the effects of layoffs and business closings.
The tough economy left a “massive hole” in the state's budget, Goldford noted, and Democratic Gov. Chet Culver is looking politically vulnerable.
“I think certainly Iowa would represent a microcosm of the problems Democrats are having nationwide,” Goldford said.
Early in his administration, Obama said that job creation would be the best measure of the effectiveness of his economic policies. But since then, unemployment has climbed and is expected to exceed 10 percent nationally.
The administration has touted the initial, $787 billion economic stimulus package as a success — but continues to fret over joblessness. Democrats hope that the remaining $250 billion of the package may result in a stronger job market, but many are now openly talking about the need for another boost.
Gibbs declined to comment on reports the administration is considering tax credits for companies that increase their payrolls, one of several ideas being floated to spur job creation.