Employment a top priority for 2010 hopefuls
Democrats, Republicans battle to be known as jobs candidates'
If Marylanders continue to have trouble finding jobs, Gov. Martin O'Malley could lose his re-election bid in 2010, predicts one analyst.
Isaac Wood, with the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said candidates vying for seats in Maryland and nationwide will have to focus on jobs more than anything else in order to win.
Candidates with a record for creating jobs, or a plan to do so, will be most successful, he said. And challengers especially those with business backgrounds could be at an advantage.
"O'Malley is not in a good position right now, and I think if there was a strong Republican you could see them take over the governorship," Wood said.
He said the Maryland's unemployment rate of 7.2 percent as of October could harm O'Malley's re-election efforts and offer ammunition for his opponents.
Still, the state's unemployment rate is below the national rate of 10 percent.
"Whoever can at least talk as if he or she knows what to do and has the will to do it is probably going to come out on top," said Matthew A. Crenson, professor emeritus in the Johns Hopkins University political science department.
Candidates saw that situation play out in the Virginia governor's race in November, when Robert F. McDonnell (R) ran as the "jobs governor" and beat R. Creigh Deeds (D).
Already candidates up for re-election in state and local races are pushing the jobs message.
On Monday, O'Malley (D) presented a plan to offer companies a temporary $3,000 tax credit for hiring unemployed workers.
O'Malley announced that initiative and others intended to help Maryland's businesses during a Small Business Summit in Baltimore. He also hosted an online town hall meeting to discuss his plans for creating jobs.
"Jobs is what the governor is incredibly focused on," said O'Malley campaign manager Tom Russell. "The reality is that in all of America right now, and the world, people are very focused on jobs and the economic situation we are in."
O'Malley has been working to preserve jobs and bring new ones to the state, but his dedication to the employment issue is more than just a slogan, Russell said.
"It's so much beyond a message in the campaign," he said. "It's the day-to-day right now of being a governor."
Audrey Scott, chairwoman of the Maryland Republican Party, said that a Republican challenger only would have to state the facts to defeat O'Malley in 2010.
"State the unemployment rate," she said. "We are supposed to have all of this stimulus money. [O'Malley] is such a buddy of [President Barack] Obama. We're supposed to be insulated."
Republican candidates should present themselves as "jobs candidates," Scott said.
Obama also has been emphasizing employment in recent days, holding a jobs summit Dec. 3 and a bipartisan leadership meeting on the topic Wednesday.
He announced plans this week to spend as much as $150 billion in new stimulus money in part on job-creating infrastructure projects and small business tax cuts.
That aside, the Obama administration is focused more on the 2010 midterm elections the first true referendum on his presidency than his own re-election bid in 2012, Wood said.
"Even if the stimulus and some of [the Democrats'] other efforts are successful, it won't translate into a decrease in unemployment until after the 2010 midterms," Wood said.
He added that could be a potential boon to Republicans looking to takeover Democratic seats in the House and Senate.
"One of the fears of the Democrats is that there will be an economic recovery in the stock market, but it will be a jobless recovery," Wood said.
The message of jobs even is trickling into local races, typically under the guise of "economic development," he said.
Just this week, Montgomery County Council President Nancy M. Floreen (D-At large) of Garrett Park, who is up for re-election in 2010, announced her plans to create a county economic development authority.
"My top priority as council president is to get our economy back on track," Floreen said Monday. "Nothing else works unless we have a vibrant, dynamic economy, and right now we don't. My people need jobs, plain and simple."
At least one Republican looking to oust Democratic incumbents from Congress says he is focused on the workplace in 2010.
Benjamin Lawless (R) of Nottingham, who plans to take on U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Dist. 3) of Towson, said job creation is his top priority.
"If that's a priority for the American people, then it is by far my priority," said Lawless, a retired U.S. Marine making his first bid for elected office.
"It's going to be a good election, regardless of political affiliation, for anyone who is going to make jobs possible for the American people," he said. "You are going to get the attention of the American people if you're going to reduce taxes, create jobs and make life easier for small business owners. Then you're going to have a very, very productive race and get excellent results come November 2010."